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MLHW : Ensuring decent work conditions

In the political, diplomatic and armed struggle they waged for over half a generation to gain their right to self-determination, the Eritrean people ascertained their liberty after tackling diverse and persistent hostilities. The Eritrean people were forced to make sacrifices not only for territorial independence but also for justice, peace and political stability to reign. Up on independence, the Eritrean government recognized the prominent and direct responsibility of the State to set up new social order giving priorities to the interests of our masses, which obviously include the Lab

The main objective of the Eritrean government after independence was to build a national economy that ensures the socio-economic justice of its citizens. Therefore, in building the economy, the human resource of the nation was given importance. One of the primary tasks was creating conditions that enable people to reap the fruits of their labor and improve their living standards through work.

The department of Labor at the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare (MLHW) was established in order to ensure this, and it issued a proclamation of labor law to administer labor relations and oversee working conditions. The proclamation reflects the Government’s commitment to development, the protection of workers’ rights, social welfare and socio-economic conditions of the people.

Labor, according to the labor law of Eritrea, is defined as the amount of physical, mental and social effort used to produce goods and services in an economy.

Mr. Weldeyesus Elisa, head of the Department of Labor, says “labor supplies the expertise, manpower and service needed to turn raw materials into finished products and services. In return, laborers receive a wage to buy the goods and services they produce themselves”. This makes human resource unique from the other factors of production. Labor resource is dynamic, and careful management of it is important for its maximum worth. Therefore, an effective labor law is very important.

Labor in Eritrea is administered based on the macroeconomic policy of Eritrea endorsed by Proclamation No. 118/2001.

Mr. Weldeyesus says the department endeavors to improve the standard of living of the population through the provision of decent work and social protection, and its core activities revolve around improving economic growth. Its vision is to create a conducive environment for sustainable development through decent work. The duties of this department are to reduce the unemployment rate to its lowest level and find ways where every able bodied citizen can get a job with a reasonable salary, thereby reducing the poverty level and eventually contribute to the growth of the national economy.

The Labor Department has four branches and seven units and its branches reach down to zonal and sub-zonal administrations.

The employment branch is mandated to manage the labor resource by studying the type of labor force the national economy demands, the available type of work force which is underexploited and general labor trends. It also deals with the national labor market and acts as a facilitator between a job seeker, employer and training centers. To guarantee a safe working environment, this branch gives advice and training to job seekers. Moreover, it acts as a facilitator between the domestic workforces, which is underutilized, with international labor markets. This contributes toward reducing the unemployment rate at home and gives the worker who is sent abroad an opportunity to bring back some skills that enable him or her become self-reliant.

The department regularly inspects the general working conditions and safety standards through its personnel to ensure compliance requirements are met for better working conditions. The unit in charge of this task controls conditions of work, .i.e. entire field of employee –employer relations and that includes, without limitation, hours of work, wages, annual and other forms of leave payment due to dismissal, compensation to employees for occupational diseases or accidents, redundancy, and any other employee benefits and responsibilities.

Labour relations in Eritrea are not characterized by disputes. Mr. Weledyesus says that the emphasis is on conciliation where any labor dispute arises. The parties or their representatives have the responsibility to meet at the place of work and make a serious preliminary effort to resolve the dispute in a spirit of understanding and this is typical of Eritrean culture. Labour relations unit of the department is responsible for settling labor disputes through conciliation and arbitration pursuant to the labor proclamation law. But if this fails to happen, their cases are seen by labor courts set up to resolve such issues. Labor disputes are divided into collective and individual disputes. Individual labor disputes are seen by the first instance labor court and the collective disputes are seen by the tripartite Labor Relations Board. For labor relations system to be effective, the Department of Labor underscores the importance of perfect match of the tripartite components of it. The major components or role players in labor relations are the government, the employers and the workers and their organizations.

In line with this, in order to improve employees’ and employers’ awareness of labor laws, the department conducts different activities in cooperation with employees and employers labor associations. Workers who are not members of associations are reached through the department’s personnel. Employees and employers have the right to form their respective associations and participate in their activities as members in accordance with the labor law. Associations shall be registered in the ministry. Through their registration, the associations obtain certain benefits and registration confers them a legal existence as an entity. The labour relations in Eritrea have a long history and it was by early 1950s that Eritrean workers formed a workers association, the first of its kind in Africa. After independence the National Confederation of  Eritrean Workers (NCEW) was established to protect the rights and benefits of employees.

The labor relations unit has the responsibility of harmonizing international treaties or conventions and bilateral agreements Eritrea ratifies with the domestic labor law.

The labor law affords every citizen the right to enter a job contract upon any lawful profession or occupation, and to conduct any lawful trade or business. The labor proclamation provides a ninety-day probation period to test the fitness of an employee and an employee who continues to work after the expiry of the probation period is deemed to have successfully completed it and employed on the basis of the contract of employment. Every employer is required to issue a formal appointment letter at the time of employment of each worker.

Eritrea ratified in 1995 the charter of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has been a member since.

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