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Ethiopia: workers strike for a union in Hawassa industrial park

26 March, 2019With no commitment towards addressing their grievances, thousands of textile and garment workers at Ethiopia’s biggest industrial park, Hawassa, went on strike 13-15 March demanding that the employers act on sexual harassment, improve health and safety and increase wages.

IndustriALL affiliate, the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Union, says that the strike is the result of unions being denied access to organize in the park.

When fully operational, Hawassa will have the potential to employ over 60,000 workers, with more than 20 global brands and retailers sourcing garments from the park.

Teklu Shewarega, IFTLGWTU’s organizing and industrial relations department head says:

“The recent strike is not a surprise. With no unions representing workers, low wages and bad working conditions are prevalent.

We have tried to organize the workers for more than two years without a clear permission from the government so far. We continue our efforts and ask our international partners and the global brands and retailers sourcing from the park for support in putting pressure on the government to allow organizing.“

Wages in the industry are as low as 750 Ethiopian Birr (US$27). To improve wages, the IFTLGWTU is working with different partners, including the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) and FNV Mondiaal. According to a recent wage survey, 65 per cent earn less than US$70, while 35 per cent are paid less than US$35, making some of Ethiopia’s textile and garment workers the working poor.

To survive, a worker needs at least US$144.

Workers are also asking for other benefits including housing and transport. The provision of housing next to the parks, will improve workers welfare as most are living in squalid conditions where four or more workers share a room with colleagues to be able to afford the rent.

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary says:

“Women have a right to a safe workplace and we strongly condemn the sexual harassment of women workers at Hawassa, which violates both labour laws and the Ethiopian Constitution. We call in employers a to urgently address the workers' grievances through dialogue with the union. It is unacceptable for the government to continue denying unions access to organize in the park.”