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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Ethiopia, 20 November 2008, available at: [accessed 21 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: 74,200,000
Capital: Addis-Ababa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) remained a prime target for the authorities throughout the year. It was again refused the right to continue to use its name. A ruling by the Supreme Court went in favour of the rival teachers' organisation that is supported by the government. Five ETA activists were imprisoned, including three leaders who had just been released after several months' imprisonment and ill-treatment. More generally, the government strengthened its hold over the unions, particularly in the public sector.

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 legislation 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 2007

Background: The government tried to consolidate its relatively fragile hold on power by continuing to confront Eritrea and the rebel movements it supports. This latent war has been used by the government as a pretext for suppressing all dissidence.

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.

Another legal decision against the ETA: On 21 June, the Supreme Court ordered 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. This ruling was the last in a long legal battle started in 1993, during which the legitimate, independent ETA had been supported by several Federal Supreme Court decisions that had, however, never been implemented. The ILO stated that the government had failed over several years to respect trade union rights in this case.

ETA General Secretary arrested and beaten: On 2 August, police stormed a meeting of the local branch of the ETA in Addis Ababa. They arrested the general secretary, Tesfaye Tirga, after finding some Education International postcards calling for the release of the ETA activists (see below). He was interrogated and beaten prior to his release.

Three ETA leaders tortured in prison: The three ETA officers, Tilahun Ayalew, Meqcha Mengistu and Antenech Getenet, who had been arrested in mid-December 2006, were released on 22 March. All three had received serious injuries aimed at extracting confessions. Tilahun Ayalew, Chair of the ETA Awi region, had been tortured for several days following his arrest. Meqcha Mengistu, Chair of the ETA East Gojam region, suffered from hearing problems and continuous bleeding in one ear after been beaten up. Antenech Getenet, a member of the ETA Addis Ababa Regional Council, explained that he had repeatedly been hung up, with his feet and hands bound. In May 2006, he had almost died after a brutal attack by unidentified men. Since then his health had worsened and he had not been able to teach again.

ETA President acquitted: In early April, Kassahun Kebede, the President of the ETA, was released after the Federal High Court had found him not guilty of the charges against him. He had been accused by the government of "diverting the association from its objectives" and "inciting its members, young people and the general public to violence". He had been in prison since 1 November 2005.

Harassment of two of the released ETA leaders: On leaving prison, Meqcha Mengistu and Tilahun Ayalew were unable to return to work. Their directors asked them to provide written justification of their absences, but the police in Addis Ababa refused to produce the necessary document.

Three leaders rearrested together with two other activists: On 30 May, Meqcha Mengistu and Antenech Getenet were rearrested. Tihalun Ayalew, who the police were also looking for, disappeared when he heard he was to be arrested. His wife, Azmera Shiferaw, was taken off by the police for interrogation. On 4 June it was the turn of Woldie Dana to be rearrested. The four teachers were once again accused of belonging to an illegal organisation, the "Ethiopian Patriotic Front". In August, two other members of the ETA were arrested: Berrhanu Aba-Debissa and Wibit Legamo, the wife of Woldie Dana. On 29 October, Antenech Getenet was released on bail, as were Woldie Dana and Berrhanu Aba-Debissa on 27 December. At the end of the year, Meqcha Mengistu remained in prison, whilst there was no news of Tihalun Ayalew.

Intimidation, arrests and murders of trade unionists in the agricultural sector: During the year, the National Workers Federation for Crops, Fisheries and the Agro-Industry reported several cases of police intimidation of its local leaders in the Oromiya region with the management's connivance. Several union leaders were arrested. The union reports that activists were killed by the police in a sugar cane plantation in Afar state.

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