Pathways to improving working conditions

The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) currently invests massively in the installation or extension of industrial parks. According to the second Growth and Transformational Plan (GTPII), this is one of the key factors involved in becoming a middle-income country by 2025. Based on an annual growth rate of at least 11 per cent in the forthcoming years, the industrial parks are expected to create 32,000 new jobs in manufacturing, mostly targeting younger Ethiopians.

The promotion of workers’ rights in these new manufacturing sectors and respective consequences were the subject of an important discussion organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) on June 16th, 2017 in Hawassa, a city in which one of the countries new industrial parks was opened the week before.

The starting point of the discussions was the core conventions of the International Labor Organization, ratified by Ethiopia in the 1980’s, when the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were put into national law. Actula practice, on the other hand, speaks otherwise: out of 100 Million Ethiopians about 50 Million can be considered part of the countries’ global workforce; 2.5 Million are formally employed (5 per cent), and 500,000 workers are members of Trade Unions.

Given recent political developments, the conference had ample food for discussion and thought. About 40 trade union leaders, representatives of regional government branches and employer’s federation attended the event. In his opening remarks, Mr. Tessema Heramo, Head of the Training Department of CETU, underlined the significant role of Trade Unions in political decision making. Clearly, Trade Unions and the Government do not always pursue the same agenda, but the majority agreed that a continuous dialogue between social partners is needed to assure economic productivity of industrial parks and social stability and peace in Ethiopia alike.