HAWASSA – Garment industry workers in Ethiopia continue to be the lowest paid in the world according to a dispatch from IndustriALL Global Union, which is pushing for union recognition among workers. Interviews with workers at Hawassa Industrial Park found wages for garment workers remain low, especially for sewing machine operators whose basic salary is 750 Ethiopian Birr. In addition, the workers are paid 300 Birr for accommodation and a further 100 Birr for reporting for work. The total, 1,150 Birr, equals around US$38 per month.
A room in Hawassa costs about 2,000 Birr, therefore, to make ends meet in some instances four workers were found to be sharing a single room.
Hawassa Industrial Park is the largest in Ethiopia with potential to employ over 60,000 workers, in line with government policies to create jobs for millions of the unemployed. The park currently employs about 25,000.
Recent research on the fledging garment sector in Ethiopia suggested that staff turnover is a huge problem, which is no surprise given the state of affairs outlined above. Ethiopia continues to tout itself as a credible sourcing alternative to Bangladesh but will surely need to address chronically low wages moving forwards.
IndustriALL found that workers do not belong to trade unions and working conditions are instead negotiated through employers/workers committees formed by the factory owners.
During a factory visit by IndustriALL, workers said the shirts they were making would sell in the US for about US$70, which is almost double their monthly wages. The factory makes 3,500-3,750 shirts per 8-hour shift and employs 450 workers.
IndustriALL director for the textile and garment sector Christina Hajagos-Clausen said:“We are supporting our affiliate in Ethiopia, the Industrial Federation of Garment Leather Textile Workers Union, in their efforts to unionize workers at Hawassa.
“As a collective the workers can demand minimum living wages and better working conditions. Without representation by a strong union the workers will continue to work under terrible conditions. We will also discuss with international brands sourcing from Hawassa to respect workers’ rights and pay living wages.”
Leading American brand PVH has a factory at the park and is one of several brands that are sourcing garments from Hawassa.