The draft labour bill concerning employees in the private sector changed 53 articles in the existing labour law, and 18 of those were rejected by the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU). The draft indeed needs a thorough discussion before it could move further, writes Senay Lemma (firstname.lastname@example.org), a country human resource manager.
The Addis Abeba City Administration recently approved a new proclamation that amends the labour law for civil servants. It gave great focus to female employees and persons with disabilities, increasing maternity leaves, sick days and necessitating city institutions to establish a nursery for newborns.
Meanwhile, the labour bill concerning employees in the private sector is pending at the Council of Ministers. The existing labour law served for about 14 years. Hence, it is not a surprise in trying to revise the law.
The draft changed 53 articles in the existing labour law, and 18 of those were rejected by the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU).
The draft indeed needs a thorough discussion among all stakeholders and shall be critically reviewed against the international instruments like the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) conventions and recommendations. The Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA) is claiming that it has made enough discussions with the relevant stakeholders: the Confederation and the Ethiopian Employers Federation (EEF).
The stakeholders though counterargue claiming that it has not been well digested and most of their concerns have not been entertained. To this effect, CETU is voicing against selected provisions which they believe will damage and contravene the rights of employees.
Indeed, a closer look at the draft betrays the involvement of all stakeholders in a broader spectrum is necessary.
This can start from the contract of employment for a definite period or piecework. The existing proclamation restricts the definite period contracts on indefinite period jobs to a maximum of 45 days and shall be done only once. However, the time required to complete recruitment of technical and key employees needs far more than 45 days.
Practically, employers are not able to meet this restriction of the law for practical challenges beyond their capacity. It is wiser if the upcoming new law considers this concern of employers and extends the duration from 45 days to 120 days.
Another is the length of probation period. The probation period has thus far been 45 days for all jobs. This duration has been too short for evaluating the employees on technical, supervisory and key posts, while it was fairly enough for non-technical positions.
The draft has proposed 90 days for all uniformly. A very short probation period affects employers as they need enough time to critically evaluate employees before placing them permanently to a critical responsibility. But an elongated one compromises employees’ rights as they are vulnerable to unconditional termination during this period.
It would be better if the new law makes a distinction on the period of probation by putting a shorter period – maintaining the existing 45 days for non-technical, non-supervisory or non-critical posts – and to provide longer probation period like 90 days for technical, supervisory and key posts.
The challenge to make this distinction is to define the two categories. Similarly, the length of resignation notice period shall be as different as is the case for probation. The employers would minimise the risk of losing the investment paid out on the resigning employees and would eliminate the loss that would be incurred as a result of possible stoppages and slowdowns
Termination without notice should also be given due attention. The draft labour law gives ground for terminating an employee who, without a good cause, exhibits tardiness two days in a month or five days in six months’ time. This change neglects the current realities of transportation and heavy traffic jam across the county.
It is quite common to observe government buses on the highways of Addis Abeba in the morning carrying employees who otherwise were expected to report to work half an hour earlier.
Women employees are most vulnerable to this provision for their double social roles. This new article, therefore, would saw disharmony at the workplace that can undermine employees’ morale, and potentially cause untimely termination of employees whose schedules are affected by unforeseen family and economic causes that are beyond their control.
It is better to maintain the existing provision in the current proclamation as cases such as tardiness are best handled through disciplinary provisions in Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) or Administrative rules.
The weekly rest day needs to be attended to as well. The concept of weekly rest has bio-physiological and social purposes to meet on the part of employees.
In the existing proclamation, employees are privileged to a 24 hours uninterrupted weekly rest, which is in line with ILO instruments in the subjects of this discussion. The drafters of the existing law have considered the physiological and social rationales for a weekly rest in putting it at an uninterrupted 24 hours. And if possible to make it on Sunday as in the Ethiopian context, it is a day by which people do social commitments and entertain themselves.
However, the new draft law seems blind on the very rationales of the weekly rest in trying to change the existing provision to a four-day rest in a month. This article seems to have not taken into account the negative impact of working continuously on the health and well-being of the worker which in turn results in a gradual drop in productivity.
This could especially lead to situations where certain employers force workers to work continuously for many weeks. The revised provision, therefore, fails to recognise that people want to use their rest days for social commitments. It is strongly advisable to resort to the existing provision in the existing law.
The case of annual leave can be seen in a similar light. The proposed change for annual leave days is a very shocking development. The current law stipulates that employees are entitled to no less than 14 working days of annual leave for the first year of service, and 14 working days plus one working day for every additional year of service.
The new proposal is 14 days annual leave for employees who have worked for a consecutive five years. This contradicts the ILO convention which indicates that yearly leave shall in no case be less than 15 working days for a year of service.
The amendment to this article has not observed democratic principles and would entail a regressive and oppressive working condition for workers. Endorsing this alteration as valid would not benefit anyone except producing a demotivated workforce and an unhealthy work environment.
It is best if the new labour law does not cut the number of days workers have for annual leave. In terms of international experience, nearly every other country in the world today provides better holiday leave for its employees than Ethiopia, except for China, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, Singapore, Nigeria and Mexico. At the minimum, the new labour law should keep the existing annual leave provision which is generally in line with international practice.
Another significant gap observed in the existing labour law is poor regulatory mechanism when it comes to employees’ safety, well-being and penalty and transitory provisions. This emanates from the law itself and the structure and capacity or level of accountability on the part of executive bodies.
Though it is believed that what works more is bringing attitudinal change on all stakeholders of the labour relation matters, the law is expected to put reasonable sanctions or penalties against violators of the provisions of the law.
The law fails to put sufficient sanctions that have contributed to the weak implementation of the provisions in terms of safeguarding the rights of employees. On top of that, the institutional capacity and commitment and level of accountability on the part of the executive and other stakeholders take the lion share of the weak execution.
Despite this, the penalties against violators of the laws as stipulated in the existing law were small even at the time of its promulgation when the value of the Birr was far more than the present. It is too small to influence the violators to respect the law with the current value of the Birr.
Hence, it is highly recommended that the new law shall put balanced penalties and it shall also put clear provisions on the accountability of the executive bodies. Otherwise, it will be meaningless to draft a law which cannot be implemented.
As Ethiopia is a signatory to the ILO, it is appropriate that the law requires employers to ensure that the workplace is safe and does not put the health and safety of employees at risk. Considering this, the proclamation should include provisions that require companies to pay recovery or compensation fees to injured employees. These fees should be large enough to help employees successfully recover from the involved health and safety accidents.
Severance payment is an issue that should be just as stringently debated on. Employers are currently obliged to pay severance pay only if the employee has no entitlement to a provident fund or pension right. In countries where the government affords its citizens robust welfare, this is not an issue. In Ethiopia, this leaves employees to fend for themselves in light of negligible pension payments.
It is imperative that the labour law provides a balanced path to address the interests and concerns of both employees and employers. It would be wise to exhaustively engage all stakeholders to discuss on the new draft law and make the balance to entertain the interests of all sufficiently. Without this, the government is bound to repeat amending the labour law in a short period of time as it did with the amendment of the 2006 proclamation from its 2004 format.
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