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Union urges Ethiopian government to ensure safe return to work for Tigrayans

GLOBAL union IndustriALL has urged the Ethiopian government to ensure peace and security in Tigray, warning that many fear returning to work in the war-torn region.

The union said that just 700 of the 2,000 workers employed in Tigray’s Mekelle Industrial Park have returned to work since it reopened after the easing of Covid-19 measures.

It blamed the situation on the ongoing armed conflict which began on November 4 last year.

The IndustriALL Federation of Textile, Leather and Garment Workers Trade Unions, which organises workers in the Tigrayan capital, says it has been difficult to reach members and their families.

Tigray has been largely cut off since the government launched operations targeting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front after it held regional elections in defiance of Addis Ababa.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces have been accused of committing war crimes alongside troops from neighbouring Eritrea, with more than 500,000 internally displaced within Tigray and at least 4.5 million in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Clinics, hospitals, health centres, schools, grain stores and civilians’ homes have been destroyed or looted, and fields burnt. There have also been allegations of ethnic profiling, rape and torture of Tigrayans.

The UN has been urged to independently investigate the war crimes allegations. Mr Abiy has said that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an “independent” body accused of having close ties to the government, will assist in any probe.

IndustriALL said that garment and textile factories have been looted and destroyed, including those of Almeda, Sheba Leather and DBL garments. 

“Thousands of jobs will be lost if the factories do not reopen,” the union warned.

IndustriALL general secretary Valter Sanches added: “It is important that the armed conflict is ended so that workers can go back to work without fear and that communities can go back to living in peace.”

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