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Cost-of-living crisis hurdle for organizing in Ethiopia

D 4 mars 2024     H 06:00     A IndustriALL Global Union     C 0 messages

IndustriALL Global Union affiliated unions organizing in Ethiopia’s automotive, chemical, electronics, energy, mining, pulp and paper, petroleum, and textile and garment sectors met in Addis Ababa on 13 February to discuss how to strengthen their recruitment and organizing strategies to boost membership amidst a dire cost-of-living crisis.

The crisis is a result of many factors which include the impact of the civil war in Tigray which displaced millions and killed thousands. Some factories were destroyed whilst others were closed, and thousands of workers were retrenched when economic activities came to a standstill. The US government then suspended the African Growth and Opportunity Act benefits for Ethiopia citing human rights violations during the war and this led to more factory closures with several investors leaving the country.

The unions said basic average minimum wages are as low as 900 Ethiopian Birr (US$16) across sectors while inflation is increasing sharply. Inflation is currently at 28.7 per cent according to the country’s central bank, the National Bank of Ethiopia. In the absence of national minimum wages, the country’s low wage economy is making it difficult for workers to afford food and other basics.

The unions stressed that renewed efforts in support of the introduction of national minimum wages could be part of the solutions to address the crisis. For example, the ILO Country Office for Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan organized a study tour to learn more about productivity and minimum wages in Vietnam. The study tour in November 2023 was undertaken by an Ethiopian tripartite plus delegation which learnt more about the national minimum wage setting mechanisms in Vietnam and how similar processes can be implemented in Ethiopia.

The unions expressed concern over the late payment of wages, with some workers not being paid for over six months. The crisis also led to workers not paying union dues thus depriving unions of income.

As part of a fact-finding mission to understand the realities on the ground, the unions are planning to visit the Tigray and Amhara regions to meet their members, and to assess how organizing can be revived.

Despite the cost-of-living-crisis, the unions continued their recruitment and organizing drives with support from government agencies and stakeholders that included the ILO. There are also plans to strengthen collective bargaining strategies with employers, improve industrial relations, campaign for gender equality, as well as engage in social dialogue.

The unions are also optimistic.

“We hope that the social and economic situation will improve in the future ; and that unions will be able to organize without fears of conflict and insecurity,” said Alemayehu Debele, president of the Federation of Commerce, Technique and Printing Industry Trade Unions.

“Capacity development for shop stewards remains our main focus,” added Mengesha Dessie, president of the National Industrial Federation of Energy, Chemical, Petroleum and Mine Trade Union.

Angesom Gebre Yohannes, president of the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Trade Unions said : “We are engaging employers on saving jobs that still exist in the industrial parks to curb further job losses.”

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa emphasized : “We will continue to provide support to Ethiopian unions in their organizing and living wage campaigns even in these distressful times.”