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Ethiopia: towards a common collective bargaining strategy

The workshop, which took place in Addis Ababa 25-26 November was attended by 30 union leaders from factory unions in the textile and garment sector. The participants came from some of the 125 factory or basic unions that make up the Industrial Federation of Textile Leather and Garment Workers Union (IFTLGWU), affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union.

The unions agreed to work together towards a common set of demands for collective bargaining, which would then be put collectively to the employers.

If this plan succeeds, the unions will move away from the current negotiations in which they bargain with employers as individual unions at factory level. According to the unions, this set up weakens the unions and exposes the leadership to intimidation by some employers. Some workers even declined to take up union positions for fear of victimization.

Mesfin Adenew, IFTLGWU president said:

“We need to strengthen unions in Ethiopia. A weak union does not have the power to confront employers, but strong unions can achieve far more.

Like our sister union the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) in South Africa that has carried out a successful living wage campaign. Interunion solidarity is important in Sub Saharan Africa to build union power.”

The unions agreed on the need for a national bargaining conference to consolidate their demands, including those for living wages and better health and safety at work. However, before this happens the unions must strengthen leaders’ skills in recruiting and organizing and fighting for the rights of the workers according to Ethiopia’s constitution and labour laws.

These rights include the protection of women workers against gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Improving skills in negotiation, conciliation, mediation, and arbitration were identified as key to improving collective bargaining and protecting workers interests.

Tigist Fisseha from ILO outlined the decent work and inclusive industrialization programme in Ethiopia which supports collective bargaining.

The workshop was held with support from Mondiaal FNV and facilitated by Hlokoza Motau, former head of organizing, campaigns and collective bargaining at National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, who explained the tactics South African unions have successfully used in collective bargaining.

The workshop is a follow up to an earlier solidarity visit by Ethiopian unionists to SACTWU in South Africa.

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