Dec 28 , 2019

The heated dispute between a newly formed labour union and the management of Ethiopian Airlines Group escalated this month with the intervention of continental and international trade unions.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents 18.5 million workers in the transport industry in 147 countries, wrote a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister calling  on Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) to join the fray and resolve the issue. In the letter, the Federation expressed its concerns over the alleged interference of the management of the Airlines in the internal affairs of the newly formed Basic Trade Union.

The Federation intervened in the case following a call from its affiliate, the Ethiopian Transport & Communication Workers Unions Federation, of which the new trade union of Ethiopian Airlines workers is a member.

In its letter, the Federation described the alleged ongoing acts of interference by the management of the Airlines as a "stark violation of ILO Conventions," as well as a serious breach of the principles of association enshrined in the UnitedNation's Charter and other international and regional human rights treaties.

“We understand that instead of engaging in a constructive social dialogue with Union," reads the letter from Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the Federation, "the management of the company concentrated its efforts on weakening it right from the start."

The Federation also called the Prime Minister to encourage the management of the Airlines to engage in a constructive social dialogue with the Union.

The International Trade Union Confederation-Africa also wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister calling for action to protect and safeguard the rights of the airline's workers to freedom of association and representation.

Signed by Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, general secretary of the Confederation, the letter alleged the management of Ethiopian Airlines prohibited the Union from recruiting members, dismissing two pilots due to participation in union activities, and suspending the chairperson of the Union as well as intimidating staff to prevent them from joining the Union.

However, the Airlines denied this, saying that no attempt was done to suspend the chairperson.

"There is no lay-off decision or attempt of that against the Chairman," reads an email from Ethiopian Airlines. "Rather he has put himself out of duty by refusing the flight assignment given by the Company long before the establishment of the New Union."

The Airlines also stated that it cannot respond to the alleged dismissal of the pilots and others, stating that some of the cases are non-existent, include false allegations and are factually incorrect.

However, Addisu Weldemichael (Cap.), one of the alleged terminated pilots, confirmed his termination to Fortune.

He said that his termination follows a comment he made on a Telegram app group, which has 8,603 members, created among the employees of the Airlines.

"My comment was considered a verbal assault on a member of the management team," the 33-year-old pilot, who worked for the company for 12 years, told Fortune.

Markos Yesuwork, a maintenance technician and the vice-president of the new Union, also faced a more than month-long suspension for being accused of using company email to attack the management of the company.

Last month the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU) also appealed to the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs to address the issue.

CETU has tried to resolve the issue by facilitating the elections of council representatives of the Basic Trade Union twice in June and September 2019, according to Kassahun Follo, president of the Union. It also brought the management of the Airlines, the Ministry of Labour and the local Transport Industry Employers Federation together to discuss on the issue.

“However, the differences between the management and the new Basic Trade Union is getting worse,” Kassahun told Fortune.

The Union also wrote a letter to Abadula Gemeda, chairperson of the board of the Airlines Group, but did not receive feedback yet. It also wrote a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister calling for an intervention in November.

The management of the Airlines denies any intervention in the labour union matter.

“We unequivocally and categorically deny an allegation of management intervention on Union matters,” reads the email the Airlines sent to Fortune.

Yeshiwas Fentahun, the chairperson of the new Basic Trade Union, declined to comment on the issue, stating that he already took the case to court.

Earlier last week, the 50-year-old Primary Trade Union, the older union representing Airlines workers, called a press conference to announce the return of 35 suspended and terminated employees to duty.

Their employment was reinstated after submitting an apology letter to the Airlines, according to the employees, who talked to Fortuneunder the condition of anonymity.

Fortune’sattempts to include the responses from the press secretariat of the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs did not bear fruit.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 28,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1026]

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