For a country accommodating more than a hundred million peoples, providing job opportunity for the youth, which has significant share, was not easy. With implementing different strategies, the nation drew plans to offer a way of living for this workforce with transforming the economy into the industry from Agriculture. This effort hasn't been without challenges as the industrialists were suffering to stand on their feet and employees fighting for their labour rights. On the other hand, the investors question the commitment of the employees at these parks as HAIMANOT ASHENAFI, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER, reports.
Life was tough for second-year college student Rahel Admasu, 19 and an aspiring marketer, who works during the day to cover her tuition fees for the night classes she attends at Unity University.
She works for eight hours a day at JJ Textile Factory, earning a 750 Br gross salary and 300 Br additional lunch allowance. Netting around 900 Br a month, she pays between 500 Br to 800 Br for her classes based on the number of courses she takes.
Spending the whole day working at the factory, she goes to school every night for almost three hours making the routine tiresome for her. Previously having her brother assist for almost a year, when Rahel heard JJ was recruiting staff she went and applied without blinking an eye.
She was then hired as a tailor of children’s cloth at JJ Textile, which was established with two million dollars and creating job opportunities for 700 citizens. JJ Textile is located in Bole Lemi Industrial Zone, one of the operational industrial parks resting on 156ha land and is home to 11 companies.
The companies in the park hired 14,000 employees, lower than the government target of 25,000. Including Rahel, 12,000 of the employees are female with the rest being male workers who are mainly engaged in operational work.
Though she was relieved from being jobless, Rahel was concerned that her salary would not cover her tuition fee if the number of courses she takes increases in the next semesters.
“Beyond covering my tuition fee, my salary is not enough to live off of,” Rahel told Fortune.
In the end, she could not continue working with the company for more than a month and has shifted to another company that manufactures lamp located around Gerji, with a gross monthly salary of 1,500 Br.
Rahel’s case is not singular, as many operational industrial parks have a high turnover rate. This can be demonstrated by a data from Industrial Parks Development Corporation (IPDC). During the first half of the current fiscal year, Hawassa Industrial Park (HIP), lost close to 4,470 workers where over 7,840 workers left their jobs at Bole Lemi Industrial Park.
Majority of the workers in both parks have high school graduates or have dropped out of elementary school. IPDC also assessed that most of the employees at Bole Lemi are from the outskirts of Addis Abeba. Those workers are required to rent a house relatively near their workplace where renal fee list revolves around 900 Br.
The issue of low-income against high living cost is not only a challenge faced by workers at Bole Lemi but also at the HIP, which was constructed to be a destination for textile, apparel and garment industries. HIP was designed to create jobs for a maximum of 60,000 workers in two phases for the five million potential workforces available in Hawassa and surrounding areas. To fulfil the demands of the companies, about 25 recruitment centres are operating near the park.
IPDC is also concerned with the high turnover rate and working on helping the workers reduce their cost of living. It has financed the construction of 600 homes which can accommodate up to four residents, sharing 250 Br each for rent. The Corporation and the region’s Trade & Industry Bureau pledged to construct houses that will be rented at a fixed price, according to Belay H.Michael, the branch manager of the IPDS in the park. “We already handed over the key and workers are already residing in the houses,” he said.
After investors started suffering from the high turnover, the IPDC in collaboration with the wereda administrations of the city began to nominate unemployed youth that completed elementary school. Supporting the effort, the World Bank Group starts to designate and train employees by providing basic skill training for a week.
The investors in the BLIP, which is located a bit far from central part of the city, are also considering about arranging transportation to the employees for free, aiming to help them financially.
Rahel used to use her free transport to go to her university after work, and it helps her to reduce her costs. This assistance was very minimal for Rahel, who manage to only cover her educational expenses using her salary. Her brothers cover the remaining living costs of her. “If my brothers didn’t support me I do not even know how I would survive,” said Rahel.
Employers are not satisfied by the workers in the park either. The workers do not show up to work which affects the daily production of the companies whose work depends highly on delivering orders on time, according to Meron Alemseged, manager of the investors association at the BLIP. “The employees have low working culture,” said Meron.
However, Liqu Woqu, an investment consultant and a lawyer, firmly opposes Meron’s view. “Investors who want to join the industrial parks are curious and concerned about the tax systems, not about the working conditions,” he said.
Liqu believes that the labour law must set a minimum wage, which is going to avoid the disappointment of the investors against their expectation of “cheap labour,” a word he opposes.
“The word by itself is annoying,” said Liqu who thinks it is offending to the workers.
He compares the average housemaid’s salary in most parts of the country for being a minimum of 1,000 Br after cost of living.
He also accuses the consulting firms of the companies who failed to warn the investors about the nation’s laws.
Workers at the parks share Liqu’s view, and they feel that many workers stand for eight hours while operating machine with one leg. “Many workers dropped from such companies due to health problems,” said Rahel.
Liqu is also concerned about the safety and health measures taken by the investors to be below the standard. He believes the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA) must follow the companies carefully and regularly. Besides, the periodical visits, the MoLSA also set standards for the safety and health of workers, according to him.
Workers also claim that they are not acquiring basic skills in the manufacturing as the investors import the final textile coming into Ethiopia for tailor works only. “There is no apparel or textile company here, only garment,” confirms Engedu Tsegaye, customer service officer at the BLIP.
In Ethiopia, there are 1,345 textile, apparel, garment and leather industry projects registered both with the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC) and the regional Investment Bureaus. Among them, only 16pc of them are operational while the remaining are at the implementation and pre-implementation stages.
Liqu suggests that companies should prepare different incentives packages to encourage the workers to stay at their job.
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