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Improving Workplaces and Working Conditions for Young Employees

This blog is a follow-up to one posted on 13 January 2015 titled “One Workplace At A Time” by Shaunet Lewinson featuring the E-FACE project.

The Ethiopians Fighting Against Child Exploitation (E-FACE) implements various livelihood strengthening interventions that tackle the issue of child exploitation due to reduced livelihoods. E-FACE targets households at-risk of or engaged in the worst forms of child labor in the Ethiopian textile and agriculture sectors, as well as young workers under the age of 18. One E-FACE intervention focuses on improving workspaces and working conditions for young workers using a three-component system that places young workers rights and safety at the forefront, while creating a participatory environment for both the young employees and their employers to get involved in the development of a safe workplace. The diagram below provides an overview of the 3 components (also referenced in previous blog).working conditions eface diagram

In February 2015, I visited several project clients in Addis Ababa to document changes to workspaces and working conditions, as well as to assess success factors that contribute to sustained changes for young employees.

Improved Working Conditions

Reduced Working Hours: Youth confirmed a reduction in their working hours, which has led to multiple effects on the youth, ranging for more time for studying and personal hygiene (including more regular body washing), to more social and play time.

Better Relations between Employers and Employees: The individualized training provided to the employees and employers and the Code of Conduct process has promoted better communication between the young workers and their employers – communication that had not previously existed.

Valuing their Work: Getting a wage or an increase in wages has added value to the youth’s work. The young weavers feel that their work is important and are motivated to put in their hours and improve the quality of their work in order to get their wages, with the possibility of raises over time. The employers confirmed that the training provided by the project changed their perceptions regarding the work being done by their young employees.

Improved Physical Workplaces

Improved Seating and Weaving Looms: Reduction in the incidences of back pain, foot and toe deformations over the long-term, as well as skin irritations and infections from sitting in dug-out holes all day long.

Improved Safety and Health: This occurred as a result of 1) the use of scissors instead of open blades; 2) improved air circulation from windows and covered dust floors; and 3) decreased bodily discomfort from separated housing, working, and sleeping spaces.

Improved Lighting: This made it easier to see and work at night, and means that young workers are not straining their eyes during the production process.

Life Changes/Personal Growth

Most youth talked about further education or starting their own businesses. The Keep Safe training has given them an appreciation of their work and the possibility of a better future in traditional textiles. The savings group formation has improved their financial literacy and the teamwork and the negotiation skills required during the training has equipped the young employees with better communication skills and improved self-confidence.

Better Business and More Incomes for Employers

Employers are seeing more income from better business practices. Most employers confirmed that their employees are working more effectively and efficiently when their wages, working hours, and general working conditions improved. A cleaner and safer work environment for youth, who report less health problems and better productivity, means more income for the employers. Improved productivity and access to new markets for their weaving products was facilitated by the project through training on improved weaving techniques, designs, and linkages to new market segments.

Factors Contributing to Success
  1. Addressing Needs of Both Employers and Employees: The project took a deliberate approach towards addressing the specific needs of both the young workers and their employers by ensuring tailored training manuals and approaches for the two groups. Projects addressing exploitative child labor and/or occupational health and safety usually do not involve both the employee and the employer. Without addressing the reasons as to why the employers use young workers, it would have been difficult to affect changes for the young workers. Training for the employers not only sensitized them on the child labor regulations and OHS principles, but it also helped them find ways by which they could improve their business while investing in their employees’ well-being. Likewise, training for the employees instilled a sense of pride in working while ensuring they are not exploited, and highlighted the importance of continuing their education.
  2. Investing in Building Relations between Employers and Employees: The Code of Conduct process was crucial in affecting changes for the employees. If the project had only trained the employers and employees on OHS principles, it is unlikely that the changes in workplaces and working conditions would have happened. The facilitation of discussion between the employees and their employers not only resulted in a common understanding among the two parties, but it also led to improved communication between them—communication that has extended beyond the Code of Conduct development.
  3. Complementing Training with Incentives and Rewards: Success was also dependent on the project’s strategy of complementing training to employers with the Business Owner Incentive Plan, which rewarded implementation with items of value such as loom parts, solar lamps, and transparent roof sheets. Besides these rewards, the project also provided incentives that linked the employers to better markets and prices for their products. All interviewed employers attested that they would not have participated in the project or made the workplace changes if not for the incentives available. It is difficult to know the extent to which the incentives and rewards influenced the improvements in workplaces and working conditions, but it is fair to say that they certainly played a large part.
In Closing...

There is no doubt that the E-FACE project has been successful in bringing about significant improvements to workplaces and working conditions for young Ethiopian workers employed in the traditional textile industry in Addis Ababa.

If you program with youth and have experiences with improving workspaces and working conditions for young employees, we would like to hear your thoughts – do you agree with what we have experienced and seen in the E-FACE project? Do you have thoughts on how we have engaged with employers to affect change for young workers? Could we have done some interventions differently? Are there success factors that you can share?

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