Procrastination in Recognizing the Rights of Domestic Workers in Ethiopia

Author:Mussie Mezgebo Gebremedhin
Position:Mussie Mezgebo Gebremedhin, (LL.B, LL.M), former Federal Prosecutor (2009-April 2016), part-timer law lecturer and researcher. I wish to express my deep gratitude to Dr. Elias N. Stebek, and the internal and external anonymous assessors for their helpful comments. The author can be reached at <mussie313@gmail.com>.
Pages:38-72
SUMMARY

The 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code regulates domestic working conditions, and it largely depends on employers’ sense of fairness. The Code provides insufficient protection to domestic workers and has failed to facilitate stable domestic labour contracts to the disadvantage of employers. The 2003 labour law (as amended) excludes domestic workers from its sphere of application other than promising that... (see full summary)

 
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Procrastination in Recognizing the Rights
of Domestic Workers in Ethiopia
Mussie Mezgebo Gebremedhin
Abstract
The 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code regulates domestic working conditions, and it
largely depends on employers’ sense of fairness. The Code provides insufficient
protection to domestic workers and has failed to facilitate stable domestic labour
contracts to the disadvantage of employers. The 2003 labour law (as amended)
excludes domestic workers from its sphere of application other than promising that
a special regulation will be issued. But there is procrastination in the enactment of
the regulation. This article examines the legal gaps in regulating domestic workers,
its gender effects and the tenability of the reasons behind the procrastination. To
this end, the article examines various sources, including laws, interviews, reports,
ILO conventions, and comparative experience of some foreign states. The negative
perception over domestic work, misconception about the prospective domestic
workers regulation and the absence of interest groups that promote the causes of
domestic workers are the major causes of the procrastination on the issuance of a
regulatory framework for domestic work. In the common interest of domestic
workers and employers, it is argued that a regulation must be issued based on a
legally-defined relationship, as opposed to the existing status relationship.
Key terms
Domestic work, domestic workers, labour rights, Ethiopia
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.4314/mlr.v10i1.2
Mussie Mezgebo Gebremedhin, (LL.B, LL.M), former Federal Prosecutor (2009-April
2016), part-timer law lecturer and re searcher. I wish to express my deep gratitu de to Dr.
Elias N. Stebek, and the internal and external anonymous assessors for their helpful
comments. The author can be reached at <mussie313@gmail.com>.
Acronyms:
ACHPR
ACRWC
CEDAW
ENWP
FDRE
GTP
ICCPR
IESCR
ILO
ISCO
MoLSA
SDGs
UDHR
African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Ethiopian National Women Policy
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Ethiopian‘s Growth and Transformation P lan
International Covenant on Civil and Politi cal Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
International Labour Organization
International Standard Classification of Occupations
FDRE Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs
Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Procrastination in Recognizing th e Rights of Domestic Workers in Ethiopia 39
Introduction
The labour rights movement of the Industrial Revolution demanded an end to
inhuman working conditions that treated workers as mere commodity.1 The
success of the movement, though very slow and limited, became a model for
other oppressed groups. Women, black people, persons with disabilities,
immigrant workers, and other minority gro ups followed similar paths and have
succeeded in gaining various labour rights. But a segment of the labour force
remains hidden in private homes since all the movements have been concerned
with public sphere labour relations i.e. ‘outside the home’.
Masked prejudice and discrimination against domestic workers are considered
to be a hindrance to the extension of labour rights. Indeed, in many
circumstances the mainstream attitude of a society subtly perpetuates some
unfavourable conditions. Peter Singer rightly opined that “If we have learnt
anything from the liberation movements, we should have learnt how difficult it
is to be aware of latent prejudice in our attitudes to particular groups until this
prejudice is forcefully pointed out”.2 Singer’s view is observable by comparing
the rights of domestic workers with others, because there is usually quick and
sharp rejection of the rights followed by a claim of their incompatibility with the
nature of domestic work. However, the incompatibility usually emanate s from
the latent prejudice with regard to rights of domestic workers.
A paradigm shift is therefore indispensable to fully understand the concern of
domestic workers and extend labour rights to them. Under the international
arena, labour rights were extended to domestic workers after successive
campaigns of various groups; particularly, domestic workers’ organizations
throughout the globe with the adoption of the ILO’s Convention No. 189 on
Decent Work for Domestic Workers and the accompanying Recommendation
No. 201 in 2011 (the 2011 Domestic Workers Convention).3 A number of
foreign states had recognized labour rights of domestic workers even before the
introduction of the 2011 Domestic Workers Convention. National and
international domestic workers promoters were vital in influencing decision
makers towards recognizing the rights of domestic workers.
1 See, Lenard R. Berlanstein (ed) (1992), The Industrial Revolution and Work in Nineteenth
Century Europe (London: Routledge), pp. 134-152.
2 Tom Regan and Peter Singer (eds.) (1989), Animal Rights and Human Obligations (New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall), p. 148.
3 The 2011 ILO Convention No. 189 and Recommendation No. 201 on Decent Work for
Domestic Worker.
<http://srsg.violenceagainstchildren.org/sites/default/files/documents/docs/ilo_convention_
189.pdf> accessed on 2nd December 2014.
40 MIZAN LAW REVIEW, Vol. 10, No.1 September 2016
In contrast, the extension of labour rights to the whole labour force is an
unfinished process in Ethiopia. Workers employed in the private sector and in
public enterprises that are engaged in economic activities enjoy labour rights,
although this does not apply to some specific groups such as private managers.4
Domestic workers are expressly excluded from the application of the Labour
Proclamation No. 377/2003, as amended (the 2003 labour law). The condition of
domestic workers is still regulated by the 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code (the 1960
Civil Code) until the Council of Ministers issues a special domestic workers’
regulation pursuant to article 3(3)(c) of the 2003 labour law.5 However, the
Council of Ministers has not yet issued the special regulation for over a decade
since the enactment of the 2003 Labour Proclamation.
This article seeks to examine the legal gaps in regulating domestic workers,
its gender effects and the tenability of the justifications behind the
procrastination, while limiting its scope only to domestic workers working
within Ethiopia. It examines a variety of sources, including legal documents,
researches, academic literature, interviews, reports, ILO conventions and
experience of foreign states to address the questions. In particular, key
informants (a domestic workers’ broker, and two officials from MoLSA and
Addis Ababa Police Commission) were interviewed about the condition of
domestic workers and the reasons for the delay in the enactment of regulations
on domestic workers. Previous researches on the working and living condition
of domestic workers in Ethiopia and elsewhere were also used to complement
the data obtained from the interviews.
The first section of the article deals with the general issues in domestic work
and domestic workers. It defines the term domestic work and domestic workers,
and discusses the need for the regulation of domestic work, with particular
attention to the relationship between domestic work and women, and the
problem of workers and employers associated with domestic work. Section 2
provides the legislative response of ILO and some states to the condition of
domestic workers in order to draw lessons that are relevant to Ethiopia with
4 Managers are excluded pursuant to article 3(2)(c) of the 2003 labour law, and their
employment relations are regulated by the 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code which provides
relatively lesser benefits as compared to the 2003 labour law. Female managers further
encounter the problem of accessing the minimum working conditions and benefits for
women employees stipulated under the 2003 labour law.
5 In this context, it should be noted that the purpose of the prospective domestic workers’
regulation is not to specify in det ail the provisions of the 2003 labour law for the purpose
of effective implementation; rather it is considered to provide a separate regime for the
regulation of domestic work through legislative delegation of power from the FDRE House
of People Representation to the Council of Ministers. Hence, the failure to enact the
regulation amounts to discriminati on against domestic workers as they ar e excluded from
the scope of the 2003 labour law that confers better employment rights.

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