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ADDIS ABABA – Government, union leaders and textile manufacturers met this week to discuss wages and worker rights in Ethiopia’s rapidly developing textile sector. Among items discussed were why unions are being denied access to recruit members at Hawassa Industrial Park, a major business park from which the likes of Peter Van Heusen, Quadrant Apparel, Epic Apparel and Ontex Hygiene Disposables are already sourcing. The park is the jewel in the crown of Ethiopia’s textile sector and will employ 60,000 workers once fully operational.

Participants at the discussions, including the ILO, reminded the government of Ethiopia of its obligations to fully implement Convention 87 on freedom of association and the right to organise, and also suggested the government should implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Social dialogue will also stop union-bashing tactics by some employers that include terminating, transferring or demoting union leaders to weaken the union,” said a note from Industriall Global union whose affiliate, the Industrial Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Union (IFTLGWU), suggested workers should be paid decent wages to live better lives and be able to look after their families.

The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), to which IFTLGWU is affiliated, supported the proposal and called for minimum wages that meet workers’ needs. Government officials, the Ethiopian Investment Corporation, global brands and the Ayka Addis textile company, who were present at the meeting, discussed how decent wages benefitted workers.

Said Masho Beriku, from CETU’s external and public relations department: “We are fighting for living wages and for Ethiopian workers’ rights. Therefore, we want restrictions stopping unions from organising to be removed. This will enable us to grow the CETU membership from the current 550,000 to our target of two million. We also would like labour law reforms to protect workers’ rights.”

Ethiopia’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Hirut Woldemariam, added: “We are living in a society and an economy that is driven by globalisation. The textile and garment sector is a notable globalised business with high female proportion in its labour force. With the establishment of industrial parks, our country has positioned itself in supply chains in the garments sector.”

The meeting was attended by affiliates from Bangladesh and South Africa who shared experiences on campaigning for better wages and collective bargaining.

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