20 August, 2019A mission to Cape Town by seven Ethiopian trade unionists, 13-15 August, provided an opportunity for learning and sharing of strategies and tactics on social dialogue and collective bargaining.
According to the unions this is important to the living wage campaign in Ethiopia where garment workers earn low wages of less than US$30 per month. In South Africa, for instance, garment workers earn above the national minimum wage of R3500 (US$230). These wages are from gains in collective bargaining that have been made over time.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliates the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Union (IFTLGWU) from Ethiopia and the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) from South Africa, together with the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, met to map out how social dialogue and collective bargaining can be improved. The international exchange was supported by IndustriALL Sub Saharan Africa region, SACTWU and Mondiaal FNV from the Netherlands.
Although Ethiopia and South Africa have different social dialogue and collective bargaining systems there were common areas where the unions could work together. Similarities between the countries are that the garment and textile sectors are dominated by women workers who constitute more than 80 per cent of the workforce. Therefore, working conditions that cater for women such as maternity benefits and childcare facilities should be accessible at all factories. Further, wages in the sectors are low and should be increased.
The unions agreed to cooperate on tactics such as improving negotiations at factory level bargaining through training. Centralized bargaining, which allowed SACTWU to sign collective agreements in clothing, textile, and leather sectors will also be further explored. Currently IFTLGWU negotiates only at the factory level. Participants discussed on how centralized bargaining could be beneficial to IFTLGWU and become part of Ethiopia’s labour laws. IndustriALL’s ACT initiative with garment brands will have a key role in supporting these efforts by ensuring that factories participate and that brand purchasing practices support the development of industry bargaining.
Said Andre Kriel, the general secretary of SACTWU:
“We are willing to help our comrades from the IFTLGWU. They can learn from our strategic unionism approach which recognizes collective bargaining, job creation, service to members, and membership growth as important activities for the union. Through international solidarity we will grow together and help each other as trade unions.”
Explaining the importance of the mission, Emebet Eshetu, the Vice President of IFTLGWU, said:
“It’s an opportunity for us to learn from SACTWU especially on how to take our struggle forward. Centralized bargaining is the way to go for the garment and textile sector in Ethiopia. We also need to use information and communication technologies as an organizing tool.”
The mission had a meeting with the National Clothing Industry Bargaining Council and visited towel factory, Colibri, and garment factory, House of Monatic.