Business Owners Obstructing Workers’ Right to Form Association

ADDIS ABABA – Private sectors are discouraging workers not to as their right to form associations in Ethiopia, said the president of the confederation of Trade Unions.

The statement came days after Fashion giant PVH, which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, said it will investigate reports that Ethiopian workers who make clothes for their high-street stores routinely face verbal abuse and discrimination and earn as little as 12 cents per hour.

Workers in PVH supplier factories in Ethiopia are also forced to do unpaid overtime and lose pay for drinking water at their workstations, said the U.S.-based Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), which monitors labor conditions worldwide.

Kasahun Folo, President of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, said the Union has been observing this trend for several years.

“When the workers try to associate themselves and ask for better working conditions, managers of the companies, especially in the private sector, discourage them not to do so,” he said. “Their effort would go as far as firing from their job.”

The Union said there is no workers’ association currently in Kombolchia, Mekelle, and Bahir Dar industrial parks as well as the Misraq Industrial Zone.

– Setting Minimum wage –

As labor, raw material and tax costs rise in Asian factories, Ethiopia is seeking to offer a cheaper alternative, attracting big brands such as U.S. chain Gap and Sweden’s H&M.

Government is pushing to switch its economic focus from agriculture to manufacturing, in the face of increased scrutiny over labor conditions and rates of pay in the supply chains of global fashion brands.

Ethiopia does not have a minimum wage but companies sourcing from Ethiopia have a code of conduct prohibiting abuse, WRC said.

The country is now drafting a bill that may decide the minimum wage, which the Trade Union Officials welcomed.

The trade Union Confirmed that the drafted proclamation is in the hands of Ethiopia’s legislators.

– Peaceful working environment –

The president said this at a press briefing about the celebration of Labors Day which is taking place in Ethiopia for 44 editions nationally. The world is celebrating May Day for 130 consecutive years.

Kasahun said that the labor day was celebrated to promote workers’ rights including their right to form associations.

“But we are finding it very difficult to associate workers engaged in the industry sector and help them know their rights so that they could not be subjected to several workplace cases of abuse,” he added.

The Trade Union has also urged the government to make sure every worker’s right to work in every place is respected.

“The government should work on bringing sustainable peace for them to contribute to the development of the nation,” he added.

The chronicle of the Confederation dates back to the establishment of the first worker association in 1945.

It was the employees of the then Franco-Ethiopian Railway who established the first Workers Union in Ethiopia.

This was followed by the formation of Addis Ababa Fiber Mills, Indo-Ethiopian Textiles, Wonji Sugar Plantation, Ethiopian Airlines and General Ethiopian Transport (a.k.a. Anbessa Bus Company) Worker Unions.

By Mhret G/Kristos