Ethiopian Community Pledges to form migrant union

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Aug 1 2013

A group of Ethiopian community organisations in the Middle East is forming a union to protect migrant workers from abuse at the hands of their employers, according to reports from the Ethiopian media.

Ethiopian community associations in Jeddah, Riyadh, Bahrain, Dubai, Yemen, Lebanon and Qatar reportedly signed a memorandum of understanding on Monday to create a union to protect workers and crack down on trafficking.

Ato Rezene Lemelem, head of the Ethiopian Community Association in Jeddah, is quoted as saying that incidences of trafficking of Ethiopians are on the rise in the Middle East.

According to Newbusinessethiopia.com:

The union vowed to defend the rights of Ethiopian migrant workers in all their countries and fight against illegal traffickers in coordination with relevant and concerned government offices.

Ato Nebeyou Belete, deputy head of the Ethiopian community in Yemen noted that there were a significant number of Ethiopians “wandering in different cities of Yemen after being smuggled by tortuous paths into the country”.

This is in many ways a bold move by the Ethiopian community. Trade unions are banned outright in the UAE and Qatar. Formal unions  for migrants in the region are non-existent, while broad-brush restrains on freedom of association mean that migrant worker support organisations are small and limited in number.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) called for a boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar because of unfair conditions for migrant workers, such as bans on forming trade unions. ITUC has also mentioned plans to ‘build a greater presence in the Gulf’ to promote workers' rights.

Few details of the Ethiopian union plans have been reported, but if these organisations come to fruition and are allowed to flourish, it will be a bold stand by the community against migrant worker abuse.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East