4 November 2012

Ethiopia: Pro-Labour Laws Bedevil National Future


Fundamental ideological shifts that Ethiopia experienced in the aftermath of the Imperial Regime have not brought meaningful differences on the law that governs the relationship of labour and capital.

This regime of the law has neither been changed significantly in both the capitalist imperial and socialist military Ethiopia, though a significant difference was expected.

Both regimes have accorded labour with a superior protection than capital, even if the latter should have prevailed, at least in the capitalist Ethiopia. Little has also changed in the post-DergueEthiopia.

Of course, the current Ethiopian constitution gives equal protection to both labour and capital. Moreover, the industrial policy of the ruling-EPRDF claims to favour capital than labour, even though the facts on the ground reflect the opposite.

Under the existing labour law of Ethiopia, an employee whose employment contract is unlawfully terminated can claim either a payment of up to her 12 months wage or reinstatement to his job together with certain payments, irrespective of the employer's will.

The preamble of the existing labour law explicitly states the chief objective of the law is enabling workers and employers to maintain industrial peace and work in the spirit of harmony and cooperation towards the comprehensive development of our fair nation. But the provisions of the law show significant discrepancy with its set of objectives.

Enforcement of the law also exhibits a practice marred by sympathy to labour, resulting in an even favourable treatment of labour.

Industrial peace without a minimum fair treatment of the two vital factors of production could never be realised. This, certainly, ends in denying the country an efficiency that is needed for the competition of our products in the international market.

Our poor nation that lives in desperate need for capital, from both local sources and foreign direct investment, should not be reluctant on the demands of capitalists. Otherwise, it remains with its labour intensive economy, and hence without the indispensable capital that it highly needs for its development.

The inflated privileges an employee enjoys here in Ethiopia, a country where there is cheap labour and high unemployment, takes me with an immense surprise.

It is undeniable that problems of diligence, tardiness, loyalty and lack of dedication loom in our labour market. Much of it traces its source from the culture.

Rewarding this uncompetitive labour with legally warranted privileges in preference to capital, the vital but scare factor of production, is at least not the right way forward.

What is even worse is it would not help improve the poor qualities of the working culture that has been the root cause of the nation's backwardness in many aspects.

I would see the repercussions of a sudden shift to favour the capitalist in a nation where labour was accorded with undeservedly favourable treatment for over four decades.

It would definitely have an unprecedented political impact both to the society, at large, and particularly to the relationship between the working force and the ruling party.

The current hyper pro-labour sentiment, if not changed as early as possible, would cost the nation its opportunity to take, for instance, its share of the 85 million job opportunities China's economy is expected to shed out to the third world over the next five years.

However, the long-term interest of the nation demands a change towards placing capital where its economic importance might take it.

Tagel Getahun is a legal advocate.

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