A 34 year old man, married with two children, works as a security guard at a private company. The company now outsourced the job to another private security firm. He is crestfallen and downbeat about his and his family’s future; he spoke to Capital his gaze fixed on the horizon, looking wretched, as he said he was tired of being overwhelmed with his family’s economic plight and the fact that he cannot do much about it. He receives a gross salary of 750 birr per month. With all due taxes and other payments, the net salary he receives as monthly wage is around six hundred birr. His family lives in the Ayer Tena area, but he says he is forced to live apart from them in the Yeka District in a one-room house to be near his workplace, as he cannot afford the cost of transportation to live with his family as befits a family man; therefore, he only sees them once a week. He gives between three to four hundred birr every month to his wife, who also helps out by making money washing clothes, cleaning houses, cooking and baking injera for a small fee in her area, to support the family. “Her income is inconsistent and unreliable, that’s why I am giving out most of the money I make,” he said to Capital. “I wish I could give them all the money I make throughout the month, which I cannot, as I have to pay two hundred birr for the flat I live in.
” There are about 140 private companies in Addis Ababa that provide security, sanitation and other services for companies, NGOs, Embassies, foreign individuals and some governmental institutions that outsource those services. According to our sources who declined to be named, about 55 of these companies are believed to be private security companies, while the rest are involved in the provision of other services, with cleaning service being the largest endeavor. These companies employ several hundred of individuals, according to other sources, also unauthorized to comment on the issue. The gross salary of most of these employees is less than one thousand birr per month. “Security guards in our company, as far as I know, are being paid only a little over 400 birr,” said a promotion head of a renowned company who very much insisted on anonymity for both himself and his company. According to security guards Capital spoke to, the main reason for their salary being this low is not because the job is considered menial as such, but the employing agencies supposedly take advantage of these individuals by paying them low wages while raking in the profits. Top level officials and the President of National Industrial Federation of Tourism Hotels and General Service Workers (NIFTHGSW) concur with the employees’ assessment. According to these officials, the Ethiopian government prohibits making money off the sweat of others, which it considers unfair labour practices. “These practices are comparable to the slave trade, as they are trading their “employees” power without adding any value,” said Tolera Deressa, President of NIFTHGSW. According to current speculations, running costs apart, the agencies are said to take 50 to 55 percent of the income for themselves. Employees of such companies and officials of the federation both accuse these companies, whom they say are established as agencies, of not disclosing their profits or profit margins to their workers, as well as anybody who wants to know. “We have tried to find out how they operate but it has literally been impossible to do that so far,” the president remarked. On the other hand, the few agencies that Capital was able to speak to stated that the profit margin was quite small and not what employees or the federation, or anyone else for that matter, speculate it is. “We consider ourselves very fortunate if we make seven to eight percent in profits,” Aranshi G/Tekle, General Manager of Agar Protection Service Plc stated. He said there are times that his company, established in 2009 and is considered to be growing fast, sometimes take on outsourced jobs at zero profit. “We try to compensate for such losses from profits and income generated from other good contracts we make.” Aranshi agrees that the salary that his employees receive is small and quite insufficient for sustenance, “even though it is relatively better when compared to other agencies,” he said. He stated that the general mindset about security work must change if customers are to pay more, whereby the employees will also benefit from increased pay. “This is because of the general attitude and outlook there is about security work,” he informed Capital. According to him, the industry has yet to grow. “Even banks that need strong security so badly, to protect multimillion birr, pay very little for security. They mainly focus on how little money they want to pay for such services, than on the quality of security work provided, while bargaining.” He is hopeful that the industry will grow soon and his employees will be paid a better salary. Aranshi reiterated his company would love to pay more money for employees as employee satisfaction is fundamental for the company’s success. Unfortunately, he said that is quite difficult to do in the present climate. “We pay up to 80 percent of the income for salary. We have expenses like administration running costs, office rental, vehicle purchase, fuel and uniform expenses,” he revealed. These expenses take up to 15 percent of the company’s income, according to the president. “That’s why we cannot pay more,” Aranshi said. In the case of employment agencies, their proliferation is necessary to help the unemployed seek jobs, which is a huge help for the country, the officials agreed. However, the way they are going about the business is wrong, they claimed. Currently, the alleged practice is that an employment agency makes a deal with a company to provide a certain number of individuals and, instead of the company paying the individuals their salaries directly, it pays the agency an agreed upon sum every month for the services of the individuals, from which the agency then pays a small percentage to them on a monthly basis, raking in the rest of the money as profit. “Their job is to link the employing company to the unemployed for a one-time commission paid up front and allow the company to employ these individuals directly and pay their salaries, without interference from the agencies,” said Asfaw Abebe, Administration and Finance Head for the federation. However, the officials at the federation said the companies, cannot be blamed. “There’s a Private Employment Agency Proclamation which has a loophole that allows these agencies to escape close scrutiny by others, including the law.” The officials stated that they have made a special request to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (MoLSA) for discussions on such issues and finally passing a law which addresses the problems to prevent citizens from excessive potential abuse. The request was made around a year ago, but MoLSA has yet to respond. The alleged prohibition on the individuals by employment agencies to independently seek contracts with the companies or institutions that the agencies have a contract with has been a main point of contention and grievance. “We don’t have contractual agreements in hand when we are employed by these agencies and are required only to provide a guarantor; therefore, we have no guarantee for not being fired on the spot for any alleged offence committed in an instant,” said another security guard who works for Geru Security Service Plc. Public discussions to find solutions to the kind of problems faced by both sides seem like an ideal solution all around. It is believed that such discussions could elicit a response by the passing of a law which would address most issues, if not all, to alleviate the allegations and counter allegations and strengthen democratic institutions that are necessary for the development of a country.