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2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia, 8 June 2011, available at: [accessed 23 January 2018]
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: 85,800,000
Capital: Addis-Ababa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The National Teachers Association (NTA) is still being denied recognition. When bank workers set up their own union the employer tried to undermine it with a parallel union, while a steel workers union complained of constant harassment and breaches of its collective agreement. A plastics company dismissed its workers for going on strike in a dispute over shift times. The labour legislation does not fully conform to international labour standards.


The Constitution recognises the right to form and join trade unions, but much of the labour legislation is based on the restrictive 2003 Labour Proclamation, which excludes many categories of workers primarily in the public sector. Furthermore, the law does not prevent an employer from creating or supporting a workers' organisation with a view to controlling it. Collective bargaining is limited, and all negotiations aimed at amending or replacing a collective agreement must be finished within three months or the provisions cease to apply. In addition, civil servants are not allowed to bargain on wages or working conditions. Although workers have the right to strike, they must follow lengthy and complicated procedures which make legal strike action difficult. Trade unions can be dissolved if they carry out a strike in essential services, the list of which is extensive, or engage in political action.


Background: The ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won the May 2010 parliamentary elections with 99.6% of the vote. The polls were preceded by months of intimidation of opposition party supporters. In October, the government released prominent opposition leader, Birtukan Midekssa, from a two-year detention. Hundreds of other political prisoners remained in jail and at risk of torture and ill-treatment. The government's crackdown on independent civil society and the media continued.

Government interference: The government blatantly interferes in trade union affairs in all sectors, notably the banking and education sectors. Many trade union leaders are regularly intimidated and most are removed from their posts and/or forced to leave the country. The government closely monitors the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU).

Teachers denied the right to organise: Teachers in public schools continue to be deprived of the right to form and join trade unions. After 15 years of lengthy legal proceedings, the Federal Supreme Court ruled on 26 June 2008 that the name, logo, all property and bank assets of the Ethiopian Teacher's Association (ETA) be given to the government-recognised entity, thereby dismantling the once largely independent teacher association. The only de jure ETA now claims to be the continuation of the teacher organisation created in 1949. Members of ETA, which lost the 2008 judicial battle, reorganised themselves and formed a new association called the National Teachers Association (NTA). The NTA was denied legal registration by the Ministry of Justice in December 2008 on the ground that a national teacher association already exists. The second attempt to register in February 2010 has consistently been discouraged verbally by officials of the newly created Charities and Societies Agency. However, no official notification from the Agency has been received by NTA to date. Given that it is not yet registered, NTA members do not have a guaranteed right to conduct collective bargaining.

Members of the independent teachers' association have faced harassment, dismissal, arrest, torture and even death. No new cases were reported in 2010, but the Government of Ethiopia has not yet initiated steps to conduct a full and independent inquiry into allegations of trade unionists' arrests, their torture and mistreatment when in detention.

The ILO has urged the government to register NTA without delay.

Bank tries to undermine workers' union: When workers at the Dashen bank formed their own workers' union, management responded by setting up an alternative union. The bank's president, Leulseged Teferi, addressed a meeting of 1,200 staff on 1 January and picked five people to run the meeting. These five facilitated the election of 11 members, out of a nominated 13, forming the new labour union. The Dashen Bank and the Federation of Banking and Insurance Trade Unions of Ethiopia (FBITUE) together with the founders of the disputed labour union of the bank met on 4 January and the bank agreed the first union could continue to exist – but also insisted the second union was legitimate. The FBITUE complained that the Dashen Bank failed to respond within 15 days to a letter it sent on 6 January requesting a meeting over the dismissal in 2009 of employees who were involved in the formation of the first labour union. Dashen Bank denied that anybody was fired in relation to the formation of the labour union, claiming the dismissals were for disciplinary reasons. The bank's president denied any knowledge of a letter sent from the Federation to the Board.

On 23 January, one of the employees suspended by the bank, Zenebe Dinkesa, a member of the security personnel, was dismissed after he was interviewed by a newspaper in connection with the formation of the labour union and his suspension. He took his case to court and on 3 February the court ruled that his dismissal was illegal and he had to be reinstated. The bank did not reinstate him and instead said it would file an appeal, but delayed doing so.

Plastics company dismisses 34 after working time dispute: In July and August Roto Plc, a plastics company, sacked a total of 34 employees following a dispute over shift times. The company made changes to the times of the shifts without consulting the employees, resulting in a strike on 7 June. The Roto workers' union, affiliated to the National Federation of Energy Chemical and Mine Trade Unions (NFECMTU), had signed an agreement with the company on shift specifications. The two sides failed to reach agreement during the strike and employees returned to work with a 250 Birr (USD 15) penalty while asking for shift hours to be changed back to the original.

On 14 June, 14 employees were fired for not showing up on time for the new shift. Another 20 employees were forced to stay in the factory for the duration of their shifts for four days, even when there was no power for them to work, according to the union. The union gave 10 days notice on 20 July that it would call a strike if problems were not resolved and their colleagues reinstated. The strike went ahead on 30 July and the company sacked a further 20 employees.

Roto later agreed to reinstate the 20 employees, to implement the agreement with the labour union, to notify NFECMTU about the fate of the 14 dismissed employees within three days, to cancel the 250 Birr penalty it had imposed on the employees, and to respect employees' human rights. According to Firew Bekele, president of the NFECMTU, the company did not keep its promise as agreed.

On 4 August the company announced it had hired and trained 20 new employees and had decided not to bring back the 34 employees, saying it would prefer to pay them compensation.

Steel company harassed union, repeatedly breached collective agreement: On 23 October, the Ethiopian Steel Plc workers union notified the company that it would go on strike on 2 November if they could not reach an amicable solution to repeated breaches of the collective agreement and harassment of union members. The nine violations of the collective agreement included a 20-day salary penalty imposed on the union leaders without prior notice, biased performance evaluations of union members, and the denial of annual leave and reimbursement of the employees' medical expenses. Workers claim they have been harassed due to their attendance at union meetings, a claim the company denies.

The labour union postponed the strike after a meeting with the Ethiopian Industrial Federation of Construction, Wood, Metal, Cement, and other Trade Unions (EIFCWMCTU) and the city's Employees and Social Issues Office on 27 October. The dispute was submitted for investigation by the Addis Abeba City Administration Employees and Social Issues Office.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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