Moroto. Ugandans working on a road construction project in Karamoja, which has been contracted out to a Chinese company, have accused their supervisors of beating and subjecting them to harsh conditions.
The charges levelled against China Railway No3 have piled over the months and the complainants claim that local elected leaders they petitioned have turned a blind eye to their predicament.
“We do not know what our leaders have got from these Chinese because they are not bothered to help even if you go and complain to their offices,” Mr Joseph Lomokol, one of the affected casual labourers, said.
Menial jobs on infrastructure construction projects provide quick income for residents in the sub-region, a nomadic community, which perennially posts the worst scores during national surveys on development indices such as per capital income, literacy and food security.
The government has lately embarked on upgrading dirt roads in the sub-region to bitumen standard alongside stringing electricity in the area.
The construction of the Moroto-Soroti road by China Railway No3 at a cost of Shs398b started last year and is expected to be completed within three years.
A senior official of the firm has denied allegations raised by the workers, and referred further inquiries to his supervisors in Kampala.
“You call Kampala because I cannot speak to journalists,” Mr Li Wang, the project manager, said.
Mr Grace Nachap, one of the affected employees, told this newspaper that COWI, a company contracted to help them sort out their complaints, has not been helpful.
The complainants then petitioned Local Government officials, including the districts’ labour office, to intervene so that their plight is addressed. None has acted, according to Mr Nachap.
Mr Joseph Lomonyang, the Napak District chairperson, in an interview with Daily Monitor tasked the workers to put their complaints in writing, and said the allegations had never been formally brought to his attention.
“We have been hearing about those issues, but we want our people to write down those issues and bring them to us so that we can take action,” Mr Lomonyang said.
Both the Labour ministry and Uganda National Roads Authority (Unra) have separately promised to inquire into the matter.
UNRA, labour speak out
Labour ministry Permanent Secretary Pius Bigirimana said the labour policy is clear and any company employing Ugandans must adhere to several conditions, including safety and a good working environment for employees. “As a ministry, we will investigate those accusations and appropriate action will be taken against those mistreating Ugandans,” he said. UNRA’s head of corporate communications Mark Ssali said: “I am glad that the matter has been brought to our attention. As Unra, we shall investigate and get to the bottom of the matter and action will be taken.”