New labour law being drafted in Ethiopia

17 Jan

By Eleni Araya, Addis Fortune Staff Writer

Experts at the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA) are putting the final touches on a bill that will significantly alter the nation’s labour laws last decreed nine years ago.

Although in the early stages of law crafting before reaching the floor of Parliament, drafters of the latest bill aspire to incorporate provisions that have not been included in any of the laws proclaimed in the past, according to experts involved in the drafting process.

Ethiopia’s first labour law governing collective labour relations was issued in 1963. This Imperial law, which contained modest recognitions of independent labour rights, was revised in 1975, with all of the tenets of socialist doctrine.

With the change of government, again, the law was rewritten in 1993, with the self-professed objective to reorganise the labour market to meet the realities of change in the economy towards a market oriented order as well as building a pluralistic society.

A decade later, the law was revised in 2003 for the third time, establishing the rights of workers to “form organisations of their own choice and run their activities free from authorities’ interference,” while protecting unions “not to be dissolved by an authoritative” decision.

Far from the days of the Marxist military period, the law ended guaranteed employment of graduates in public establishments, eased conditions allowing temporary employment, shortened probation contracts by half from 90 days, and broadened the cases whereby dismissals from jobs are lawful, according to a study commissioned by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in 2006.

Although minor changes have been made through two amendments since, the labour proclamation in 2003 has remained operational, according to Mehari Redai, assistant professor at Addis Abeba University.

However, this law has been criticised for failing to incorporate international labour rights conventions, which Ethiopia signed with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), such as protecting the employment rights of people with disabilities, establishing a minimum wage, and fighting child labour. An amendment of the labour law, made in 2008, for instance, only made changes to three articles.

The need for the new bill came about because there were many articles that were causes of contention for different parties, Efrem Geletu, an official from the Directorate of Harmonious Industrial Relations at the MoLSA, told Fortune.

The bill in the making now includes provisions that require all companies to provide insurance coverage for workplace injuries, unless they are exempted by a directive, and adds more stringent regulations to protect children, according to Efrem.

“We now have three drafters on the committee, but there have been times when that number has increased to five or seven,” said Efrem.

The new bill, however, could be sweeping and may structurally change the labour law through many amendment provisions, according to sources at the Ministry.

“The overall aim of the new draft is to focus more on prevention and social dialogue by laying out a conflict resolution network and social services, instead of relying heavily on enforcement, as the current law does,” Efrem told Fortune. “We have looked at the experiences of countries like Singapore, which was plagued with strikes prior to 2009 but is now exemplary because they focused on the prevention of conflict.”

However, it will take some time before the bill is to be presented to Parliament. The draft is still being developed, and the Ministry will yet have to consider all of the input it is getting from stakeholders in the industry, according to Efrem.

Officials at the Ministry had invited around 250 participants for a two-day meeting, held in Adama (Nazareth) 98km east of Addis Abeba, on January 4, 2012.

Representatives from the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), which is believed to comprise of nine federations with a combined membership size of 203,560; the Ethiopian Employers Federation (EEF); the Ministry; and regional bureaus for labour and social affairs were present at the meeting, according to those who attended the meeting.

“The understanding we had at the Adama meeting with stakeholders was that the draft bill should aim to repeal the 2003 proclamation instead of amending it, because the number of provisions that are being revised is considerable,” Efrem disclosed to Fortune.

Labour union leaders from the CETU were not available for comment. But, an activist for the Confederation believes the meeting in Adama should have given more emphasis on including international standards by the ILO.

The CETU, first established in 1977 as the All-Ethiopia Trade Union, played a role in bringing about the previous labour amendments in 2003.

Its challenger in the tripartite engagement of labour affairs, the EEF, called for a meeting of its leaders on Saturday, January 14.

“If there are changes to be made in the law, the Ministry should consider every stakeholder’s view and keep in mind that the amendment should done in a way that will not discourage investment in the country,” Tadele Yemer, president of the Federation, told Fortune.

Re-established in 1997, after it had been dissolved during the military regime, the EEF aspires to promote free enterprise in the economy and protect the interests of employers.

The bill will have to pass the approval of the Ministry’s advisory board, composed of workers, employers, and government representatives, before it is tabled for review by a 15-member management committee. Members in this committee include representatives from federal government agencies, such as the Ministry of Trade (MoT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), and the Road Transport Authority. (RTA)

A final bill approved by this committee will be sent to the Council of Ministers, chaired by the Prime Minister, for the final executive decision before legislative approval by Parliament.

Girma Seifu, sole opposition member at the house of people’s representatives says that while provisions requiring insurance coverage for workers against injury while on the job, and stronger controls on child labour should be encouraged he would have to look at the whole draft and know its content before voting for the law.

“The last amendment of the labour law gave too much power to employers, so things should be more fair and balanced this time.” he added.

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