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Ethiopian textile unions campaign to end poverty wages

10 May, 2018Wages as low as 600 Ethiopian Birr per month (US$20) continue to haunt workers in Ethiopia’s textile and garment sector. Salaries are not enough for workers, over 90 per cent women, to pay for transport, food and housing, or to support a family. These workers are part of Ethiopia's working poor, while making clothes for brands from Europe, the US and Asia including H&M, Tchibo, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein.

To end poverty wages, IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Trade Unions (IFTLGWU) is amongst the unions leading the campaign for better wages, workers’ rights to organize, and collective bargaining.

The campaign targets the industrial parks set up by the government including Bole Lemi in Addis Ababa where South Korean garment manufacturer, Shints, employs 4,300 workers, of whom 3,800 are union members. Other parks targeted by the campaign are Hawassa and Mekele.

Unions see minimum wages as a starting point in reversing the low wages and are demanding that they be included in the new labour laws under consideration. Eventually the unions want to shift the campaign to living wages.

Unions are campaigning for minimum wages above 3,373 Birr (US$121). These wages can be pegged using the official minimum wage, 1,800 Birr (US$64), or the consumer price index, 2,400 Birr (US$86). Current wages average below US$50.

Meetings have taken place between the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) and various stakeholders including the ILO. There were also meetings with the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to discuss minimum wages.

IndustriALL director for the textile and garment sector, Christina Hajagos-Clausen, who will speak at a workshop on organizing in the supply chain in Addis Ababa later this month says:

We support Ethiopian unions on the introduction of minimum wages to set at a level of a living wage. We demand further that workers be paid what other garment workers earn globally.

Therefore, we are promoting global framework agreements in the sector to stop global brands from exploiting cheap labour in developing countries. Living wages can lift workers out of poverty.