Since 85 percent of Ethiopia's workforce engages in subsistence farming in the countryside, only a very small percentage of the population is involved in wage labor. The Ethiopian constitution and the 1993 labor law provide wage laborers with the right to form and belong to unions, though employees of the civil and security services (where most wage earners work), judges, and prosecutors are denied these rights. The Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), established after the fall of the Derg regime in 1993, includes 9 federations organized by industrial and service sector. There is no requirement that unions belong to the CETU. Approximately 250,000 Ethiopian workers are unionized.
Workers who provide an "essential service," such as those who work in air transport, railways, bus service, police and fire services, post and telecommunications, banks, and pharmacies, are denied the right to strike. Other workers are granted the right to strike, though the unions involved must follow certain detailed procedures before doing so. The same applies for the right of an employer to lock out workers. Both sides must make efforts at reconciliation and provide at least 10 days notice to the government before the commencement of an action.
The minimum age for wage labor is 14 years, and various laws protect children between the ages of 14 to 18 years, including restrictions that they may not work more than 7 hours per day. The U.S. Department of State maintains that there are some efforts to enforce such regulations within the formal industrial sector, though there are large numbers of children of all ages that grow and harvest crops outside government regulatory control in the countryside or work as street peddlers in the cities. The harsh reality is that many impoverished parents depend on the work contributions of their children to ensure the survival of the household.
While there is no minimum wage in the private sector, a minimum wage in the public sector has been in effect since 1985. According to the U.S. Department of State, however, the minimum wage in the public sector, which equaled about US$16 per month in 1996, is insufficient to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The Office of the Study of Wages and Other Remunerations, for instance, reports that a family of 5 requires a monthly income of US$61 in Ethiopia. Even with 2 minimum wage earners, therefore, a family receives only about half the income needed for adequate subsistence. These factors result in the family's reliance upon the children to contribute to the household income.
Most employees in Ethiopia work a 40-hour week, and the government, industry, and unions negotiate occupational health and safety standards. The Inspection Department of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs cannot enforce these standards effectively, however, due to a lack of human and financial resources.