Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have insisted that having a minimum wage will help solve some of the problems faced by the country’s workers.
Addressing journalists on Sunday, Peninah Mbabazi, the Program Officer in charge of debt and aid at SEATINI Uganda said the absence of a minimum wage exposes workers to exploitation.
“The existing minimum wage of shs6000 or approximately $1.61 is very exploitative since it has not been reviewed since 1984 and yet a lot of things have changed. This state of affairs of the lack of a viable minimum wage in place has exposed workers to gross economic exploitation and income inequality,” Mbabazi said.
“Workers especially women, casual workers in factories, plantations and commercial investment schemes are poorly paid thereby depriving them of their means of livelihood and the right to live in dignity. Additionally, they also work under very precarious conditions and are subjected to work without or with inappropriate personal protective equipment which exposes them to hazardous chemicals.”
Joseph Byomuhangyi from the Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability (UCCA) said this state of affairs coupled with lack of occupational safety and health have made matters worse for Ugandan workers.
“If a worker earns less than a dollar but also the conditions under which they work are poor, what kind of work will they offer? There is need for dignity and decent work for Ugandan workers,”Byomuhangyi said.
According to the CSOs, many investors who come to the country are fond of labour casualization where a few top managers are paid handsomely but the rest of Ugandan employees work without contracts and under poor conditions.
“Many work without protective gear whereas others are over worked. Others lay off workers without paying them promptly . For the minimum wage, our leaders have always claimed the having it will send away investors but this is not true. What percentage of jobs are created by these investors? The truth is that the percentage of jobs created by investors is small and they are of poor quality,” said Elizabeth Kemigisha, the advocacy and policy manager at the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers.
The CSOs said it is appalling that whereas each district is mandated to have a labour officer, many districts do not have any in place.
“Those in place also experience difficulty in executing their jobs due to under-funding to the labour functions, lack of transport to carry out routine and effective supervision and corruption, which hinders compliance to their rulings. It is also pertinent to note that the Industrial Court of Uganda which is mandated to dispense labour justice in the country currently has only two judges.”
Robert Kirenga, the Executive Director for the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders Uganda accused government of failure to appropriate budgets to cater for workers.
“The many cabinet ministers, MPs and advisors we have take a lot of money that could be used to at least recruit labour officers in districts. The problem we have is failure by government to invest in the country’s labour force which is a key in growing the economy. It is not that resources are not available but the problem is priority,”Kirenga said.
The CSOs noted that a number of investment related policy frameworks in Uganda are blind to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, pointing out the Investment Code Act, 2019 that despite recently being amended still has many gaps for example, it does not provide for a requirement for human rights impact assessment to be undertaken by investors prior and during the implementation of investment projects.
“It does not provide for performance requirement measures and due diligence. The Employment Act, 2006 also does not protect workers against casualization of labour. In addition, the current provisions of the Employment Act, 2006 do not protect workers currently working under the new forms of work which are rampant on the Labour market for instance temporary agency work, outsourcing, telework, remote work, platform work etc. All these forms of work are precarious and exploitative outside a clear regulatory framework,” SEATINI’s Mbabazi said.
The CSOs urged government to review the Investment Code Act, 2019 to address the challenges associated with largescale land-based investments to include human rights impact assessment, performance requirements and specifically enforce the African Union Guidelines for Largescale Land Based Investments and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
They also asked government to review the Employment Act, 2006, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 2006, and Workers’ compensation Act 2000 to protect people’s right to dignity and livelihood.
“As an active member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and signatory to Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery Convention No. 131 domesticated in Minimum Wages Advisory Board and Wages Councils Act, government should implement the 2015 recommendations of the minimum wages advisory board to enhance the protection of workers from exploitation.”