The Right to Work in Ethiopia

Refugees in Ethiopia are not presently able to apply for a work permit and are instead going to great lengths to find ways to earn a living. While Ethiopia recently passed a law to register 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers within the country, they still do not have the right to work and therefore are left in an extremely precarious situation. While they can open bank accounts, and register births and marriages within the country, refugees and asylum seekers are still unable to legally work, therefore leaving these individuals with very few options of having a sustainable livelihood.

Near the end of December 2019, the United Nations will be presenting the first Global Refugee Forum with the aspirations of identifying best practices and generating opportunities to support refugees all around the world. Child labor and prostitution are two major areas that Ethiopia needs to focus on as these two crises are becoming increasingly prominent within its borders.

Additionally, the legislation is fundamentally flawed. While refugees and asylum seekers may register for available schooling programs (just as the citizens of Ethiopia are able to do), once they have learned these skills – such as cooking, sewing, welding and mechanics – they are unable to put their new skills to work and earn a living.

The Ethiopian government has begun to respond to the critical questions of why they are accepting so many refugees and asylum seekers, while still refusing them the right to work. In response to this, the government is working to create approximately 30,000 jobs for these individuals – which would cover just over 4% of the refugees within the country. Unfortunately, not only is this a tiny percentage of the refugee population, but the jobs created will be in factories where the workers will earn approximately $26 per month.

When refugees and asylum seekers are able to work below the radar of the government, or “under the table” and make more than $26 USD per month, they lose incentive to be in compliance and work longer days at harder jobs to earn less money. Based on these figures, it is apparent that the Ethiopian government still has a long way to go in creating the best plan for these individuals to survive as refugees, without having to take on illegal forms of employment, while also avoiding affecting the working opportunities of the citizens of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia is in a state of change when it comes to labor relations as the country just saw some major legislation changes in July of 2019 with regard to extending the period of maternity leave that mothers can take. Additionally, organizations in Ethiopia have rallied for an increase in length of probationary periods in the workplace. Ethiopia has already had a year of significant changes to their labor code (the Labor Proclamation No. 1156/2019), and if more pressure is applied to create the right to work for refugees, policy makers may see 2020 as a year of intense modifications and rewriting of the Labor Proclamation once again.

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