Thursday May 1 2014

Address pressing labour issues

Uganda today marks International Labour Day with several problems faced by workers unsolved. Rafts of workers’ economic rights under Article 40 of the 1995 Constitution remain unenforced.

Workers still labour without a minimum wage, and are denied rights to work under satisfactory conditions.

It is indefensible for government to say granting the minimum wage would increase production costs and discourage investments. Kenya, for instance, boasts a healthy investments climate but enforces the minimum wage. The ministry of Finance should quickly grant a Certificate of Financial Implications to have Workers MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara’s private members Bill on the Minimum Wage Bill, 2013, debated.
Lamentably, the minimum wage has stood at a bare Shs6,000 a month since 1984. The workers MPs are asking for a minimum wage protection floor fixed at only Shs150,000 per month. Government must guarantee this.

The call by Workers MPs to have an independent ministry of Labour should be endorsed. Uganda cannot be an exception to other EAC member states that have independent ministries of Labour. Government should also heed the workers MPs’ call to have district labour offices re-centralised. Presently, several districts are without labour officers.

Unending strikes by several workers are loud indicators of loss of labour rights and collective bargaining power. It is crucial that the Salary Review Commission is urgently revised to reduce disparity of salaries among workers. The country must not starve the hands that build our roads, run the factories, drill for oil in Albert Graben, and does so much more.

On the positive side, government’s move to appoint an Industrial Court judge is commendable. But this must be quickly operationlised. Parliament has passed several laws to protect workers but the laws governing employment, workmen’s compensation, occupational safety and health, trade unions, the public service, and the social security fund are not enforced because there are no district labour officers and no courts to arbitrate or settle the cases.

The pressing labour issues must be addressed now. The workers have fought for 30 long years for the minimum wage protection floor.
Government must reset upwards the minimum wage and enforce statutory workers’ rights.