Since recently Ethiopian Airlines has banned its Ethiopian pilots from leaving Ethiopia for any reason unless they are on duty. Not long ago, three pilots were prohibited from leaving the country for a vacation at the airport with their passports confiscated. The airlines justified the incident saying that it needed to run a background check on them and later they were told that they were mistaken for other individuals. In an interview with Fortune newspaper, the CEO of EAL, Ato Tewelde Weldemariam, defended his company’s act saying “there should be no way a poor farmer in Ethiopia subsidizes a rich gulf air in the middle east”. That is an agreeable point as long as treated in the appropriate manner that does not infringe individual rights illegally. Pilots trained by EAL should, of course, serve the agreed amount of time or settle their balances.
What if they don’t? There is a legal procedure in place for such actions. Ethiopian sues the individual and law enforcement bodies will enforce court orders. The company is, in no way, entitled to take the law in its own hands. But Despite all this, Ato Tewelde and his entourage have no restraints in flexing their muscles on its employees regardless of what’s written on the legal papers.
If the reason for their ban is the debt, why can’t our pilots be allowed to leave the country once they pay their debts? Is working for Ethiopian Airlines a national service imposed without the good will of the pilot? Workers at EAL have serious grievances about the working conditions. Pilots are overworked, underpaid as compared to other competitors in the industry, treated like second class citizens. Expatriate pilots working for the company get a much higher pay and benefits than their Ethiopian counter parts. ‘If Ethiopian paid half the amount it pays expatriate pilots, it would have retained its fleeing pilots’, says a pilot who prefers to stay anonymous due to fear of retalition by EAL for speaking out.
“I feel like am being enslaved” are the exact words of a pilot at Ethiopian Airlines. He continues “We are not allowed to leave the country unless we find other means to exit from Ethiopia like on foot via the Kenyan or Djibouti borders…”. Can you imagine a pilot flying all over the world, regarded as being the lucky few by most for being ‘global citizens’, considers fleeing the country on foot, camouflaged? Isn’t mobility the basic right a human being is endowed, to move around freely, to fulfill his needs and in search of better opportunities? Well EAL doesn’t think so. A pilot trained by Ethiopian has signed up to willingly enslave himself/herself to its master that invested two million birr on him/her. Whether or not he/she pays its debt doesn’t really count. According to EAL, a citizens’ service to its country, as it claims the rationale is behind the ban, is solely decided by the goodwill of its employer. As a ‘wife’ bought with a handful of cows, a tenant subdued by a sack of grain, the fate of a pilot is now decided by the goodwill of EAL. A pilot travelling the world serving its company can only go out of Ethiopia if and when he gets the blessing of its employer, even when he is on vacation or has a personal reason.
I am certain that EAL and its CEO have read article 13.2 of the UN declaration of human rights that states “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.Is the company testing the waters to form the miniature state of its own following the footsteps of its superiors? Well i am afraid Kim Jong Un is facing a fierce competition to top the table of the ultimate coercion of its subordinates. The pilot who took a detour to Geneva may have seen this coming. I wonder what else is there behind those tightly guarded lines at EAL, a company that is beefing up its muscles at the expense of its employees, the Ethiopians. A company bearing the country’s name and flag has become a brand of social injustice and human indignity. The red ‘Ethiopian’ logo has shamed its people scared off its employees and has become a flag of national humility. Is it really ETHIOPIAN?