Population: 74 200 000
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 - 87 - 98 - 100 - 105 - 111 - 138 - 182
The government maintains a tight control on trade unions, making it difficult to form unions, particularly in the public sector. The government continues to single out the ETA and its members for harsh treatment. ETA meetings have been disrupted and activists arrested, and three ETA leaders showed signs of torture when they appeared in court.
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.
Limitations on collective bargaining and the right to strike: 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.
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 has requested 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
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.
Ethiopian Teachers’ Association: The Ethiopian Teachers’ Association (ETA) has been a particular target for harassment. Its leaders have been prosecuted, and its President, Taye Woldesmiate, was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment in 1996. He was released in May 2002 after international pressure and lives in exile. In 2005, security forces occupied the ETA headquarters for two weeks, took away vital documents and equipment and detained six members. Since then, ETA members have been under persistent attack, with more than 20 teachers dismissed for allegedly supporting opposition political parties.
The government created a splinter group with close ties to itself, the ‘New ETA’, and redirected the ETA’s union dues to it. In November 2003, the High Court endorsed a complaint by the original ETA, but on appeal in March 2006, the ‘New ETA’ managed to get that decision overturned and the original ETA was ordered to hand over all its assets. It challenged the verdict, and in November 2006 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the bona fide union. At the year’s end, the issue was still being discussed in the Federal High Court.
Repressive climate restricts freedom of trade unions to operate: Political repression has been stepped up and the whole country is now under police surveillance. Journalists have increasingly become the target of police repression, and this curtails freedom of expression and severely limits trade unionists’ ability to operate.
Violations in 2006
ETA leader still in detention: Kassahun Kebede, Head of the Addis Ababa branch of the ETA is one of the hundreds of people who have been held in long-term detention since November 2005, when they took part in an opposition demonstration protesting against the rigging of parliamentary elections. An arrest warrant was also issued against exiled ETA President Taye Woldesmiate. All are accused of conspiracy, armed insurrection, high treason and genocide.
Government forces disrupt ETA Assembly: On 30 April, special army forces surrounded the compound where the ETA was to hold a Special General Assembly. They arrested participants and confiscated their identity cards and forced the meeting to be suspended.
Special forces then prevented the holding of the ETA Assembly again on 30 August, when security officials surrounding the building where the Assembly was being held, kicked out the participants and closed down the meeting.
ETA activists arrested: Two ETA activists were arrested on 23 September. Wasihun Melese, an activist in the ETA’s Addis Ababa branch and member of the ETA National Executive Board, was arrested by security guards at his home. Anteneh Getnet, another ETA activist, was arrested at the ETA premises by three plain-clothed security officers. After a court hearing on 25 September, both were held incommunicado at the Maekelawi, the Criminal Investigation Bureau in Addis Ababa. They were released on bail on 5 October, after international protests.
Earlier in the year Anteneh Getnet was abducted and beaten up and left to die in a forest full of hyenas. Fortunately he escaped, but is still suffering severe health problems as a result, and is unable to resume teaching.
According to the ETA, the security forces have a list of teachers to be arrested, which is thought to be in response to an ETA complaint against the government concerning the continuing harassment of teachers.
Further ETA arrests: In mid December three ETA officers, Tilahun Ayalew, Meqcha Mengistu and Anteneh Getenet, were arrested and detained in the Maekelawi. They were later granted access to a lawyer and medical assistance. When they appeared in court in Addis Ababa, it was clear that they had been tortured: Tilahun Ayalew, Chair of the ETA Awi zone, had a fractured leg bone; Meqcha Mengistu, chairperson of the ETA East Gojam Zonal Executive and member of ETA's EFAIDS Committee, had a bleeding ear and hearing difficulties; whilst Anteneh Getnet, member of the ETA Addis Ababa Regional Council, had scars on his arms, both of which were twisted. Their case was adjourned to "allow the police to undertake further investigation".