Women constitute more than 80 per cent of the workers in the rapidly growing textile and garment sector in Ethiopia. A good understand of labour laws is crucial to improving industrial relations.
A five-day workshop in Addis Ababa, 26-30 November, which drew 19 participants from women's committees in the textile, garment and shoe factories, recognized the pivotal role of the law in employment contracts and discussed that it is always better for the contracts to be in writing. Collective bargaining agreements also protect the rights of workers and improve working conditions as well as wage determinations.
The topics discussed in detail included what the law says on basic rights and the obligations of the workers and employers, freedom of association, labour proclamation provisions, grievance handling, and resolving conflict at the workplaces. It was also highlighted that Ethiopia had ratified ILO Conventions on the freedom of association, protection of the right to organize, and collective bargaining.
Examples given were drawn from Ethiopian case law, and dealt with dismissals, sick and maternity leave, and occupational health and safety. On health and safety, the law says the employer must give clear instructions to workers, appoint a health and safety officer, provide protective equipment and report accidents among other provisions.
Organized by the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather, and Garment Workers Union (IFTLGWU) with support from the IndustriALL Global Union regional office for Sub Saharan Africa and FNV Mondiaal, the workshop highlighted some sections of the law especially on unfair dismissals that the unions would like to be changed. Further, the unions wanted minimum wages to be included in the amended labour laws, and for rights of workers to be recognised in the industrial parks.
Unions said they will continue fighting outsourcing which in most instances replaces permanent jobs with precarious ones.
The workshop was facilitated by Alem Abraha, a legal expert from Mekelle University.
Says Sisay Tulu, IndustriALL coordinator for Ethiopia:
“Understanding the labour laws is important to counter situations where employers take advantage of the workers not having a full understanding of the law, and this often leads to their exploitation in the factories. This often changes when workers understand the laws better and are able to stand up for their rights.”