A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country


August 2014

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.  

There is a better way leaving a job. Or is there?

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?

8 thoughts on “A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country

  1. King Dorthy, what proof do you have that the article’s statements/assertions are false or inaccurate? I know for a fact that EVERYTHING mentioned in the article is true. How? I’ve worked there. I’ve experienced it. In fact, it leaves out a few other things the company does to force pilots into staying. I won’t get into that here. Why don’t you ask around? You know any pilots? Easy, ask them if the expats earn more. Ask them if the 3 pilots actually had their passports taken at the airport. Ask them if Ethiopian refuses to accept resignations and payments for contractual obligations in order to force pilots to stay. Until you do you’re the one make baseless, unverified statements.

  2. In my opinion any one should serve as per his agreement or return the cost sharing money and shall be free.

  3. This is a very delicate issue. Ethiopian piilots primarily and Ethiopian medical doctor secondarily have been the prey of foreign employers. For a poor country like Ethiopia, this is a very complicated issue. Where does draw the line. Should there be a threshold or should the market determine. A pilot has to have a right for that matter any Ethiopian should have the right. We can talk about all the human right declaration we want but when it comes to national security, any and every country in the world would violate declarations directly and indirectly. How ever most developed countries have no wage problems to retain their pilots. Ethiopian airlines is walking on a sleepery slope. It is lucky upto now because, a pilot in the Ethiopian airlines in better paid than than his/her counterpart in other fields. That is not going to be true in the near future; therefore, Ethiopian airlines has to work hard on alleviating this problem. Expanding a bussiness has many short comings. If a foreign pilot is paid paid way over an Ethiopian pilot and if those two pilots are treated almost equal by other companies, Ethiopian airlines is shooting it’s foot by under paying Ethiopian pilots. This is not. Rebel movement where the foot soldier are fighting for free. This is where Mr. Tewolde, the board of directors and the government should show their leadership.
    I am not a pilot. I am not related to anyone who works for the airlines. I am just a concerned citizen who believes in free maket but in some modified regulated form that is carved out for a third world country like Ethiopia. Too much regulation, domination and dictation will riun the company.

  4. As to my knowledge, Ethiopian Airlines has its own rules and regulations in managing its own employees. Ethiopian is the icon of Africa and the leading airline in the continent. The pan African airline comes to this level by respecting the right of its own employees. What you are reporting is not even logical……… the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction, or art…. Journalism alone is focused first on getting what happened down right…Therefore, please communicate the right information to the public.

  5. as far as i know pilots are highly paid employees at Ethiopian Airlines. why you guys accuse this company with baseless rumors? i have pilot friends there and none of them complain about their job. in fact they are very busy because of the Airline’s growth and opening up of new routes. but i never heard the fact that they are not allowed to leave the country. this is totally insane. please stop such stupid accusations. let our national pride shine in the skies.

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