Employees of the Greek Club stand outside the compound on Tuesday, April 7, awaiting news on the status of their appeal.

After being ordered to do so by the Addis Abeba Bureau of Labor & Social Affairs, Greek Club, one of the oldest restaurants in the capital, has given paid annual leave to the 72 employees it had originally furloughed without pay.

Last week, the Olympiacos Hellenic Athletic Association Greek Club, commonly known as Greek Club, furloughed 64pc of its staff for three months with no pay, citing a sharp income decline due to the public's reaction to the spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). However, the City's Bureau of Labor & Social Affairs invalidated the management's decision, which faced intense backlash from the employees' labour union, leading the Club to grant the employees paid leave.

Prior to suspending the employees, the Club had sent a letter to the Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs stating that it will be suspending two-thirds of its 112 permanent staff for three months without pay. In its letter, the management of the restaurant informed the Ministry that it had been forced to suspend its employees due to income decline because of the spread of COVID-19.

The six-decade-old Club gave several reasons for the decision. The Greek Club cited and article and the labour law that lists financial problems not attributable to the fault of the employer as well as force majeureunder it. The Club also mentioned that it has shut down its sports facilities to comply with social distancing protocols for three months.

"It was a shock to hear about the suspension, since many of the employees have families to support," said Fisseha Aregawi, president of the Club's trade union, which has 105 members.

The trade union called for the intervention of the city's labour office, which invalidated the move citing the COVID-19 Tripartite Workplace Response Protocol that came into effect on March 27, 2020. The Protocol, which is only applied to signatory employers, states that employers should provide annual leave to their employees. In cases where employees have used up their annual leave, it states that at least half of the annual leave from the coming year should be made available.

During national emergencies such as COVID-19, every stakeholder should shoulder the burden, according to Fekadu Gebru, director of harmonious industrial relations under the Ministry of Labor & Social Affairs.

"This, beyond the laws that govern us,  is a social responsibility more than anything else," Fekadu added.

On April 6, 2020, the city labour office wrote a letter to the Club suspending the management's decision.

Following the decision of the Labor Bureau, the management of the Club, which is registered as a nonprofit organisation and provides tennis, basketball, football and restaurant services to its patrons, is giving the employees leave based on the amount of annual leave they have.

"We're extremely relieved that it has been resolved," said Fisseha. "We're fully aware that this is a global problem, and it affects everyone. But we can sit down and discuss alternatives together."

However, Mehari Redae (PhD), an expert on employment law and lecturer at Addis Abeba University School of Law, argues that the decision of the Labor Bureau can be appealed.

"The Protocol can't override stipulations under the Labor Proclamation," he said, "If anything, it can only be enforced on signatory bodies under it."

The Club, represented by its board of directors along with the trade union, is set to meet and discuss further steps next week.

The board of directors of the Club, which has 20 million Br in annual revenue and donated over 100,000 Br for the fight against COVID-19, declined to comment on the issue and emphasised that the discussion is still in progress.

Amare Desalegn, the Club's general manager, said that the Club is not part of the Ethiopian Employer's Federation. It has also used the revenue it generates to provide sports training and school materials to students in the past.

"As of the end of 2019, it finalised building a football field as well as showers and locker rooms in the city of Gelan," Amare said.

The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) has had similar cases brought to it following the effects of the virus across businesses in the country. The Confederation, which has nine federations from different industries holding 2,101 trade unions and 750,000 employees, currently has more than 30 pending cases.

"We have daily discussions with employers from different sectors to come to a mutually beneficial decision," said Kassahun Follo, the Confederation's president. "So far, most of them have found resolutions except for a few cases. But the Protocol has become very useful for this critical time."

PUBLISHED ON Apr 12,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1041]

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