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Labour sector crippled by absence of industrial court

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Workers in the Nakivubo Park Yard market sift through the ruins after a destructive fire. Workers in Uganda have no where to run when their rights are abused since the Industrial Court is largely seen as defunct. FILE PHOTO 


Posted  Friday, December 27  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

The problem. While the laws of the country provide for an Industrial Court, it has since been relegated to the sidelines, allowing predatory employers to prey on hapless workers. Trust in the powers of justice is low among employees.


Activists have demanded for the restoration of an industrial court to expedite resolution of disputes between employers and their workers in the country.
Under Platform for Labour Action (PLA), labour rights advocates argues that the absence of industrial courts has frustrated the administration of justice in labour complaints leaving many workers stranded with no option other than engaging in strikes and demonstrations.
Ms Diana Prida, a lawyer with PLA, says employers are using the loophole of lack of a functional labour court to frustrate justice in labour cases since labour officers have little power to have the cases resolved.

No trust
She says that despite alternative dispute resolution measures like mediation and negotiation that have resolved a number of cases, more than 400 cases are pending on appeal.
Ms Prida observes that as a result of the absence of a functional industrial court, workers are losing trust in the judicial system because it is not serving them. “We offered free legal representation but for the period 2012/13, no labour case has been given a date,” she explained.
“Without the Industrial Court, it amounts to denial of justice and the right to be heard and this is a further hindrance to justice. We have witnessed many cases dismissed by magistrates while others have been forced to start afresh which is costly to workers who earn as low as Shs200,000,” said Ms Prida.
“The costs involved in filing a case are high considering the earning of most workers but also the alternatives established by the judiciary like small claims procedure excludes employment and contract cases.”

Stopped working
The Industrial Court was established under the Trade Disputes (Arbitration & Settlement) Act of 1964 to settle unresolved disputes between employers and trade unions over terms and conditions of employment but ceased their operations in 2007.
According to Ms Lydia Bwitte, a lawyer handling labour matters, an Industrial Court has powers over all labour cases and without it, workers are denied justice. “If the due process of law is curtailed, the judicial process in labour-related cases is frustrated,” she added.
Ms Bwitte explained that the Industrial Court is a court of first instance where workers file their grievances when employers defy orders of labour officers.

“Appeals are supposed to be heard before the industrial court but without it a notice of appeal leaves the judgments and orders issued by the labour officers unenforceable. Hence people are left with the option of going to mainstream courts which are clogged with backlog of cases,” she said.
According to Ms Bwitte, the Industrial Court plays a key role in the administration of justice in labour matters. Since it ceased its work, there is a case backlog and the situation discourages many workers.