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2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 18 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 85,200,000
Capital: Addis-Ababa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The courts reached a definitive ruling in the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) dossier. After fifteen years of struggle, the ETA is now deprived of all legal existence. The CETU reports a recrudescence of violations of freedom of association in the country.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association – many categories of workers are excluded: The Constitution recognises the right to form and join trade unions, but much of the current labour legislation is based on the 2003 Labour Proclamation, which excludes many categories of workers in the public sector, including judges, prosecutors, educators and security service workers, as well as others in the non-profit sector or in managerial posts.

Union monopoly cancelled, but arbitrary dissolution still possible: Multiple unions are allowed in the same enterprise, and ten is the minimum number required to form a union. All trade unions have to be registered, and the government can apply to the courts to cancel union registration if the union has engaged in prohibited activities, such as political action.

No legal protection against employer interference in trade unions: The law does not prevent an employer from creating or supporting a workers' organisation with a view to controlling it.

Limitations on collective bargaining: The government issued a regulation in 2006 whereby if negotiations aimed at amending or replacing a collective agreement are not finished three months after its expiry, the provisions on wages and other benefits cease to apply. Public servants are not allowed to negotiate for better wages or working conditions. The government had told the ILO it is studying other countries' legislation with a view to drafting a Labour Code giving civil servants, including teachers in the public sector, the right to bargain collectively.

Limitations on the right to strike: Trade unions can be dissolved if they carry out strikes in 'essential' services, but the list exceeds the ILO definition, by including air transport and urban bus services.

While other workers are allowed to strike, this involves such a complicated and lengthy procedure that it is difficult to take legal strike action. The ILO repeated its request to the government to lower the quorum required in strike ballots to a 'reasonable level'.

The ILO has also raised concerns that arbitration procedures for disputes in the public sector are more restrictive than those in the private sector, and has asked the government to bring its legislation into line with Convention 87.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The humanitarian situation has worsened in the north of the country, which has been struck by a severe drought. At the political level, the struggle between the army and the rebel movements has produced dozens of victims.

Government interference: The government blatantly interferes in trade union affairs in all sectors. Many trade union leaders are regularly intimidated, and most are removed from their posts and/or forced to leave the country, whilst others have been detained without trial. The government closely monitors the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU).

Although there are no legal restrictions on union meetings, if they are organised at the workplace, the management has to be informed, and if they are held outside the workplace, the local government has to be informed. Despite protection in law, in practice union activists are frequently fired and discriminated against, and unlawful dismissal suits take years to resolve because of court backlogs. Although the law prohibits any retribution by employers against strikers, it is doubtful whether the government enforces this in practice.

Suspensions and dismissals of trade unionists, creation of yellow unions: At the two-yearly CETU congress at the end of September, the ten affiliate trade union federations denounced the rising number of violations of workers' rights and of those of their trade union representatives, who are facing "serious problems" in several companies. For example, management of Bole Printing Enterprise suspended 10 of its 400 workers, including three trade union leaders. Their salaries were also suspended. Two other companies in the food sector, the Cheraliya biscuit factory and the Dashen brewery, were also named by the CETU for similar problems and for employer pressure on trade unions. According to the CETU, several company managements have not hesitated to promote the creation of unions favourable to them or to dismiss trade union militants.

Dissolution of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association: Following legal proceedings begun 15 years ago, the Supreme Court upheld on 26 June the decisions of the Federal High Court of 21 June and of the Federal Supreme Court of 7 February requiring the ETA to transfer all its assets and its name – the key to its identity – to a rival teachers' association created in 1993 and supported by the government. On 28 July, a representative of the new ETA displayed the court ruling on the wall of the trade union organisation. This decision follows years of harassment and intimidation of the organisation and its members, the murder of ETA deputy secretary-general Assefa Maru, the six years of imprisonment of the former chairman Taye Woldesmiate, and the imprisonment and torture of many ETA militants and their families. All the pressure brought to bear by the international trade union movement and the ILO Conference Committee on the Application of Standards has proved in vain. In February, a delegation from Education International was not even able to meet government representatives. Following this irrevocable court decision, ETA militants set up a new trade union association, the National Teachers Association (NTA), lodging in July 2008 an application to register with the Ministry of Justice. On 15 December, the Ministry of Justice officially communicated to the NTA its refusal of the registration.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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