Opened in 2008, Edna Mall has established itself as an entertainment hub in one of the busiest areas in Addis Abeba. The building houses close to 30 offices and shops as well as restaurants and underground parking garages in addition to three cinema halls and an arcade.

Employees of Edna Mall have threatened to take the property's management to court, alleging "unlawful dismissal" as the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia's (CBE) handover to East Steel Plc takes a sour turn.

Close to 300 employees working at the Mall, long an entertainment hub in Addis Abeba, have faced the prospect of unemployment as the state-owned CBE took drastic measures in its bid to transfer the property to East Steel Plc. East Steel acquired Edna Mall earlier this year. Located on Cameroon Street, across from Bole Medhanialem Cathedral, the property has been held as collateral by the CBE against a loan provided to Tekleberhan Ambaye Construction Plc (TACON), the former proprietor.

The Chinese-owned East Steel is acquiring the property after offering 810 million Br at an auction held last July, more than three times the floor price.

Incorporated in 2014 with 279 million Br in equity, East Steel operates in the Eastern Industry Zone in Dukem, 35Km southeast of the capital. With an annual production capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of steel, the plant primarily supplies rebar to the construction industry. On December 10, 2021, officers from the CBE sealed several parts of the Mall, including Matti Multiplex Cinema, Bob & Bongo’s Fun Palace and administrative offices, as part of the property transfer process.

Employees who depended on the two establishments for a living began to worry.

Alganesh Desissa, a mother of four who has been working at Bob & Bongo’s for the last 14 years, says neither she nor her colleagues were given any advance notice their jobs were in jeopardy.

“No one informed us our livelihoods were at risk,” she told Fortune.

The seven-storey complex lays on a 2,000sqm plot and began operations in November 2008. It houses close to 30 offices and shops as well as restaurants and underground parking garages. Ever since the theatre complex with three cinema halls began to showcase the latest Hollywood and domestically produced films in 2008, Matti Multiplex Cinema has attracted thousands of visitors.

Bob & Bongo’s has also been a popular amusement place for children since Edna Mall opened its doors, featuring an arcade and other entertainment facilities.

Alganesh has been working in the catering department at Bob & Bongo’s, mainly serving children who celebrate birthdays at the amusement centre. She earned 3,500 Br in monthly salary.

“After the amusement centre and the cinema were shut, the management told us we don’t have jobs anymore,” said Alganesh.

The property`s foreclosure included all the cinema and the amusement centre assets. The CBE had issued an eviction notice before closing the cinema and the amusement centre. Tenants were required to vacate the premises within a month, according to the notice given on November 5, 2021, and signed by Gadesa Teshome, acting foreclosure manager at the CBE. The CBE had informed the management of Edna Mall before notifying the tenants, says the notice.

“We've been patient with the management for five months,” said Abdulkerim Daud, director of litigation and foreclosure at the CBE.

Security personnel deployed by the Bank have been guarding the building beginning December 6. The Bank issued a second eviction notice two days later, giving tenants an additional month to move out. The notice also warned that those who refused to leave would have their property seized.

A few shops were closed last week where tenants were seen packing their belongings. Among them was a trader who has been selling mobile phones from a stall on the second floor for the last decade. She claims the management has not contacted her or any of the other tenants.

“We've received no information other than learning we're going to be evicted through the Bank's notice,” she told Fortune.

Edna Mall's managment was not available for comment despite efforts by Fortune.

Yehualashet Tamiru, adjunct lecturer of law at the Addis Abeba University, says it is customary to give tenants three months' notice, although it is not obligatory for business establishments.

“If there are any payments they had paid in advance, tenants can go to court and file their case," he said.

When it comes to workers, the expert says the issue is different.

“After termination, employees must get compensation and severance payments in accordance with the law,” said Yehualashet.

The employer is bound to inform employees through letters of termination before doing anything else, according to him.

Alganesh says there was no letter.

“They only told us the bad news in person,” she said. Other staff employed by the building's administration, such as custodial and security staff, face a similar predicament.

The CBE contends it has no obligations when it comes to the employees.

“Our dealings are with the owners and management of the building,” said Gadesa.

A contract of employment may only be terminated where grounds are attributed to the worker’s conduct or with objective circumstances arising from their ability to do work. Ethiopia`s labour law says workers are entitled to severance pay upon contract termination by the employer, even if the business is closed due to bankruptcy.

Last week, 170 aggrieved employees of Edna Mall prepared lawsuits to take their misgivings to court.

“We'll sue the management for failing to compensate employees terminated without notice," said Wabi Haji, a lawyer representing the workers.

As a single mother and the only breadwinner in her family, Alganesh depends on this job to provide for her children.

“I've been sitting at home idle for three weeks," she said.

If she manages to receive severance payment from her former employers, Alganesh plans to use the money to open up a traditional coffee shop.

“I know I can earn a good income running the business,” she said.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 25,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1130]

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