In Ethiopia—which began its democratic transformation after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office in 2018—the Solidarity Center supports the efforts of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) to protect civil and labor rights, mitigate economic inequality and support working people’s participation in the country’s process of rebuilding its economic and legislative frameworks.

Ethiopia is undergoing dramatic political transformation. Abiy quickly ended the state of emergency imposed under the former government, freed political dissidents, and opened hundreds of blocked websites and TV channels. He also announced his intent to reshuffle the government and appoint women to half of the country’s ministerial posts.

Ethiopia has been one of the African continent’s best economic performers, growing at a rate of 10 percent for the past 15 years under state-directed development by a government that permitted no political opposition, but invested heavily in infrastructure, agriculture, education and other sectors. Ethiopia is the fastest growing economy in the region, but also one of the poorest, with a per capita income of $783.

As articulated in the country’s second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II), Ethiopia should continue to see robust economic growth, attributed to the government’s continued focus on rapid industrialization and structural transformation. The World Bank’s 2019 Global Economic Prospects report put Ethiopia on track to have nearly the highest GDP growth rate in the world.

Despite opportunities afforded by sustained economic growth and new political freedoms, workers are not ensured a fair share of economic growth, decent working conditions or dignity on the job. Freedom of association is essential for workers to advocate collectively for their interests but—although the constitution and labor laws provide for freedom of association—civil servants and other public-sector employees are excluded from the right to form and join unions, conduct legal strikes and bargain collectively. Workers prohibited by law from forming unions include teachers, health-care workers, judges, prosecutors, security-service workers, domestic workers and seasonal agricultural workers. Also, the right to strike is denied to many workers, including workers in air transport and urban bus services, gas stations, hospitals and pharmacies, firefighters, telecommunications and sanitation. Workers continue to report inadequate wages and gross labor violations in the country’s industrial export processing zones, which are designed to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), often at workers’ expense. Ethiopia has no minimum wage.

CETU is uniquely positioned to represent workers interests given that it is one of Ethiopia’s largest multi-ethnic and multi-religious civil society organizations, representing about 570,000 workers organized into nine affiliated industrial federations across nine regions and approximately 1,700 trade unions. The federation, with Solidarity Center support, is striving to improve its member outreach programs through its regional centers—in part to continue organizing in construction, agriculture and textiles sectors—but also to ensure that worker interests and recommendations are adequately represented to national government officials as the political and economic reform process moves forward.