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Minimum wage fight still raging in Uganda

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The economic times call for a change in the legislative instruments that seek to improve the cost of living in the country. FILE PHOTO 

By EPHRAIM KASOZI

Posted  Friday, January 24   2014 at  02:00

In Summary

A sore need. Without a legal minimum wage, many Ugandans continue to suffer the injustices that come with trying to afford a decent economic lifestyle.

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Although workers and service providers deserve a payment that is commensurate with the existing situation in the country for the work done over a given period of time, many people earn less.

Labour rights activists say that employers pay less for the work and services rendered to them due to lack of a minimum wage which amounts to exploitation.
Activists argue that there is need for a fixed minimum wage to enable a work and his family to acquire basic requirements in light of the national social, economic and cultural situations in the country.

Ms Diana Prida, a lawyer working labour rights organisation; Platform for Labour Action, argues that there is need for a minimum wage as a standard to protect the forces of demand and supply of labour.

“It is a form of regulation to insure that a worker has a payment to enable him acquires a decent livelihood and protected from exploitation. In the absence of a set wage, workers are subjected to low payments and as a result, workers end up without a retirement packages or development,” says Prida lamenting that the low pay leaves elderly people in rented houses and impacts on the education of their children.

Reduce corruption
Speaking at the launch of the countrywide campaign for the fixed wage, Prida expressed optimism that a minimum wage that is fair would reduce corruption because it is set according to sector, work done and or qualifications.

“A minimum wage promotes saving and hence investment. So to protect the informal sector and the vulnerable workers like guards and domestic workers as well as those in the agricultural sector where employers do not only exploit but also abuse workers, we need a regulation in the country,” says Prida adding that the presence of the minimum wage is a move to value workers and fight against impunity among employers.
She argues that if the country has a standard minimum wage, it increases the level of competitiveness especially as the country joins the integration in the East African Community contrary to brain drain.

The fixing of a minimum wage level in Uganda can be traced to 1935 when the first Minimum Wages Board was set up to determine the minimum wage for unskilled employees.
The Minimum Wages Advisory Board appointed in 1970 recommended a minimum wage of at least Shs185 for the urban areas and for tea and sugar estates; at least Shs125 for trading centers; and at least Shs104 for all categories of employers that had ten or more workers.

Setting up a board
The 1984 Minimum Wages Advisory Board recommended a minimum wage of at least Shs6,000.
Currently, Uganda set up a Minimum Wage Advisory Board through the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development with representation from all the key stakeholders including employers and workers.

In February last year, Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga granted MP Rwakajara leave to go and draft the Minimum Wage Bill which provides among others a proposed figure of Shs250,000 as salary payment per month.
The private members bill is also in the Parliament of Uganda to seek amendment of the Minimum Wages Advisory Boards and Wages Councils Act, 1964.

According to Prida, there is need to review the minimum wage to make it proportionate with the country’s economic situation and review of the board recommendations.

ekasozi@ug.nationmedia.com