Experts at the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA)
are putting the final touches on a bill that will
significantly alter the nation’s labour laws last
decreed nine years ago.
Although in the early stages of law crafting before
reaching the floor of Parliament, drafters of the
latest bill aspire to incorporate provisions that
have not been included in any of the laws proclaimed
in the past, according to experts involved in the
Ethiopia’s first labour law governing collective
labour relations was issued in 1963. This Imperial
law, which contained modest recognitions of
independent labour rights, was revised in 1975, with
all of the tenets of socialist doctrine.
With the change of government, again, the law was
rewritten in 1993, with the self-professed objective
to reorganise the labour market to meet the
realities of change in the economy towards a market
oriented order as well as building a pluralistic
A decade later, the law was revised in 2003 for the
third time, establishing the rights of workers to
“form organisations of their own choice and run
their activities free from authorities'
interference,” while protecting unions “not to be
dissolved by an authoritative” decision.
Far from the days of the Marxist military period,
the law ended guaranteed employment of graduates in
public establishments, eased conditions allowing
temporary employment, shortened probation contracts
by half from 90 days, and broadened the cases
whereby dismissals from jobs are lawful, according
to a study commissioned by the UN Development
Programme (UNDP), in 2006.
Although minor changes have been made through two
amendments since, the labour proclamation in 2003
has remained operational, according to Mehari Redai,
assistant professor at Addis Abeba University.
However, this law has been criticised for failing to
incorporate international labour rights conventions,
which Ethiopia signed with the International Labour
Organisation (ILO), such as protecting the
employment rights of people with disabilities,
establishing a minimum wage, and fighting child
labour. An amendment of the labour law, made in
2008, for instance, only made changes to three
The need for the new bill came about because there
were many articles that were causes of contention
for different parties, Efrem Geletu, an official
from the Directorate of Harmonious Industrial
Relations at the MoLSA, told Fortune.
The bill in the making now includes provisions that
require all companies to provide insurance coverage
for workplace injuries, unless they are exempted by
a directive, and adds more stringent regulations to
protect children, according to Efrem.
“We now have three drafters on the committee, but
there have been times when that number has increased
to five or seven,” said Efrem.
The new bill, however, could be sweeping and may
structurally change the labour law through many
amendment provisions, according to sources at the
“The overall aim of the new draft is to focus more
on prevention and social dialogue by laying out a
conflict resolution network and social services,
instead of relying heavily on enforcement, as the
current law does,” Efrem told Fortune. “We have
looked at the experiences of countries like
Singapore, which was plagued with strikes prior to
2009 but is now exemplary because they focused on
the prevention of conflict.”
However, it will take some time before the bill is
to be presented to Parliament. The draft is still
being developed, and the Ministry will yet have to
consider all of the input it is getting from
stakeholders in the industry, according to Efrem.
Officials at the Ministry had invited around 250
participants for a two-day meeting, held in Adama
(Nazareth) 98km east of Addis Abeba, on January 4,
Representatives from the Confederation of Ethiopian
Trade Unions (CETU), which is believed to comprise
of nine federations with a combined membership size
of 203,560; the Ethiopian Employers Federation (EEF);
the Ministry; and regional bureaus for labour and
social affairs were present at the meeting,
according to those who attended the meeting.
“The understanding we had at the Adama meeting with
stakeholders was that the draft bill should aim to
repeal the 2003 proclamation instead of amending it,
because the number of provisions that are being
revised is considerable,” Efrem disclosed to
Labour union leaders from the CETU were not
available for comment. But, an activist for the
Confederation believes the meeting in Adama should
have given more emphasis on including international
standards by the ILO.
The CETU, first established in 1977 as the
All-Ethiopia Trade Union, played a role in bringing
about the previous labour amendments in 2003.
Its challenger in the tripartite engagement of
labour affairs, the EEF, called for a meeting of its
leaders on Saturday, January 14.
“If there are changes to be made in the law, the
Ministry should consider every stakeholder’s view
and keep in mind that the amendment should done in a
way that will not discourage investment in the
country,” Tadele Yemer, president of the Federation,
Re-established in 1997, after it had been dissolved
during the military regime, the EEF aspires to
promote free enterprise in the economy and protect
the interests of employers.
The bill will have to pass the approval of the
Ministry’s advisory board, composed of workers,
employers, and government representatives, before it
is tabled for review by a 15-member management
committee. Members in this committee include
representatives from federal government agencies,
such as the Ministry of Trade (MoT), the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs (MoFA), and the Road Transport
A final bill approved by this committee will be sent
to the Council of Ministers, chaired by the Prime
Minister, for the final executive decision before
legislative approval by Parliament.
Girma Seifu, sole opposition member at the house of
people’s representatives says that while provisions
requiring insurance coverage for workers against
injury while on the job, and stronger controls on
child labour should be encouraged he would have to
look at the whole draft and know its content before
voting for the law.
“The last amendment of the labour law gave too much
power to employers, so things should be more fair
and balanced this time.” he added.