The newly amended Ethiopian labor law, which is initiated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA) and currently under review by the parliamentary standing committee, is said to have incorporated provisions that would help protect the basic rights of workers in terms of safe working environment and decent and livable wages, at the time when global rights advocates are increasingly publicizing the so called "exploitative" wages paid to works at newly built industrial park structures.
During a workshop held on Thursday to discuss the overall labor management in Ethiopia and the upcoming amended labor law, Ergoge Tesfaye (PhD), Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, has urged factories and other companies working in the industrial parks, principally to adhere to the laws of the land and the international bill of rights and declarations that require employers to uphold certain labor standards.
Abebe Abebayehu, Commissioner of Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), has also underscored the need for the protection of workers' rights, and the mutual agreements of both employers and employees to guarantee industrial peace and productivity.
The meeting came a few days after, a new report dubbed: "made in Ethiopia: challenges in the garment industry's new frontier," which the New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights has published exclusively on Ethiopia, narrating how industrial wages are somehow exploitative in the textile factories, particularly in the Hawassa Industrial Park, where some 20,000 least paid laborers are struggling to live with a monthly wage of USD 26.
"Entry-level workers in Ethiopian garment manufacturing-most of whom are young women-are typically paid a base salary of only USD 26 per month, struggling to just get by and unable to save or send money home. Ethiopia has no legally mandated minimum wage for the private sector," the report noted in its findings.
According to the report, compared with countries such as Turkey that pays USD 340 per month, Kenya with monthly wages of USD 207, Cambodia with USD 182, Vietnam with USD 146, Laos with USD 128, and even both Bangladesh and Myanmar paying USD 95 each per month for textile workers, wage rates in Ethiopia was found to be far more exploitative. However, Abebe criticized the Center's report and its approach, for comparing Ethiopia's emerging textile sector with countries that have maintained a relatively well developed factories and industries.
In fact, it is not for the exploitative wages alone that the foreign factories recently invested in Ethiopia are under the spotlight. Their resistance to the idea of establishing workers trade inside the industrial parks is also a point that the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) has been echoing for some time now. However, the Stern Center differs with the role of CETU in Ethiopia and points the finger at trade unions doing too little or nothing at all for the protection of workers' rights. "Unions have played no role in organizing workers or advocating for better pay or conditions at Hawassa," the report stated.
The Center further glanced at the Ethiopian laws which guarantee certain democratic and human rights, yet as the report puts it: "Ethiopian laws in theory guarantee freedom of association, but the country has a weak trade union movement, which hasn't attempted to organize employees at the industrial park. In place of traditional union representation, "workers' councils" are supposed to promote factory employees' interests at Hawassa." Currently, MoLSA is zooming in on factory owners and company executives to abide by the labor standards as they are constitutionally guaranteed and internationally proclaimed.
The draft labor law will be introduced with several pay adjustments and considerations for an hour of work, annual leave and the amount of compensations payable in case of on duty and off duty injuries and illnesses.