Advancing social justice and promoting decent work in Ethiopia

An opinion piece by Alexio Musindo, ILO Country Director for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan

Article | 05 December 2023

Alexio Musindo, ILO Country Director for Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan
This year marks 100 years of development partnership between Ethiopia and the International Labour Organization (ILO). Since Ethiopia joined the ILO in 1923, the ILO has strived to bring forth the diverse voices of the people of Ethiopia through its tripartite structure to advance decent work sustainable development through social justice. Over the years, this partnership has evolved to address changing multifaceted political and socio-economic needs.

The ILO in Ethiopia continues to work earnestly towards developing a constructive partnership between the Government of Ethiopia and workers’ and employers’ organizations that hinges on social dialogue and cooperation. This partnership has remained a crucial foundation for the development of policies and interventions on issues related to promoting employment-centric inclusive, resilient, and sustainable growth and strengthening labour market governance and industrial relations while ensuring respect for fundamental principles and rights at work for all people in Ethiopia.

Progress towards ensuring decent work and sustainable development
Over the years, through collaboration and collective effort, Ethiopia has made significant progress in addressing some of the challenges in the world of work and to ensure that all people in Ethiopia enjoy the rights and capabilities to realize their full potential with dignity. Keeping social dialogue and tripartism in centre, the country has developed of policies and strategies aligned with international labour standards, increased investments for economic to drive job creation and alleviation of unemployment, improved industrial relations, advanced the enjoyment of fundamental principles and rights at work – including the recently adopted fundamental right for a safe and healthy working environment, and promoted extension of social protection to all workers.

Being one of the oldest members of the ILO, Ethiopia has ratified 23 ILO Conventions including the 9 fundamental ones and has taken measures to align national policies with international labour standards. The Decent Work Country Programme for the country, which guides the work for various stakeholders in the world of work to advance the decent work agenda is grounded on principles of ensuring people enjoy fundamental rights and realize their full potential, enhancing investment for shared prosperity and promoting social dialogue and tripartism to advance the enjoyment of fundamental principles and rights at work. Ethiopia’s current development plans, including the Home-Grown Economic Reform and the Pathway to Prosperity both adopt a human-centred approach and aim for creation decent jobs and sustained high-quality economic growth with strong emphasis on gender equity, through increased public investment in development of physical, human and institutional capacities.

Advancing social justice and promoting decent work

While Ethiopia has experienced remarkable socio-economic growth over the years, there are myriad of challenges to address to ensure full and productive employment to meet the demands of the growing labour force as well as to ensure decent work for all. In order to address some of the persisting challenges, Ethiopia needs to sustain efforts to promote social justice.

As the preamble of the ILO Constitution states, “universal and lasting peace can be established only if it is based upon social justice.” But why social justice? Social justice is about fairness, equality and having the agency to shape one’s own life. It is about having equal access to employment opportunities as well as an adequate standard of living to ensure that each person can live a productive and dignified life. It is about shared prosperity. The four dimensions of social justice- universal human rights and capabilities, equal access to opportunities, fair distribution and just transition- enables societies and economies to function more cohesively and effectively. This paves way for sustained reduction in poverty and inequality and lays foundation for peace and stability.

There are four ways to in which social justice can be advanced through decent work. Firstly, it would be important to work towards enhancing inclusive and effective governance of the world of work lay foundation for social justice and ensure all workers enjoy adequate protection. The ILO Conventions with complementing recommendation serve that normative framework for governance of work. As mentioned above, till date, Ethiopia has ratified a total of 23 ILO conventions. Moving forward further work needs to be done to advance social justice to new forms of work in platform economy, undervalued work in the care economy and unprotected work in the informal economy. An inclusive and effective social dialogue mechanism is key to forge inclusive development paths with fair opportunities for all. Labour administration, with adequate political support and administrative capacity, can play a central role in influencing direction of policy, laying groundwork and structural conditions to support the transition from informal economy and ensuring protection of rights of workers.

Secondly, it is important to ensure access of all individuals to full, productive, and freely chosen employment and lifelong learning. While Ethiopia has registered remarkable socio-economic growth in the last two decades, economic growth alone does not lead to creation of decent and productive jobs. One of the central objectives of macro-economic policies should be transformative policies that target creation of decent employment which are complemented by sectoral, social protection and labour market policies. This process should be founded on environmental sustainability. It would also be important that employment policies are gender-responsive, removing the common barriers faced by women entering and remaining in the labour market. To address the issue of unemployment investments should also be made in skills strategies, lifelong learning and employment services and active labour market policies which are complemented by job search assistance, career guidance, public employment programmes, trainings and entrepreneurship subsidies.

Thirdly, a range of inclusive labour market institutions play central role to reduce inequalities and ensuring fair outcomes. It is important to set an adequate minimum wage, in line with the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970 that takes into account the needs of workers and their families as well as the economic context- along with maximum limits on working time. This not only affects the distribution of income but more importantly protect the dignity of workers. Additionally, equal pay legislations and pay transparency measures would be important to address the persisting gender pay gaps that we witness globally and ensure gender equality. Collective bargaining mechanism plays a critical role to ensure equal pay and equal treatment.

Lastly, and very importantly, it is crucial to ensure that measures are taken to protection people. Social protection is a human right and provides access to adequate standard of living and capabilities necessary for people to realize their full potential. We have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic that there is disjoint between aspiration to ensure universal social protection and the reality where we witness unequal access especially for the most vulnerable workers such as young workers, workers in the informal economy and migrant workers. It is there crucial to establish mechanisms for labour and social protection to enhance resilience of people, societies and economies for all.