The current state of affairs in the country resulting from the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic calls for urgent amendment of the employment laws, labour experts have said.
In terms of the employment laws, labour lawyers reasoned that natural disasters such as COVID-19 were envisaged to last for at least fifteen days but exceeded the projections of the lawmakers, a situation which requires the government to rethink the law.
“The nature of employment contracts is also an issue worth considering. Legitimate concerns on varying the terms of such contracts to fit the context of the pandemic will stand out in this season. Employers need to know that the law largely protects employees and exposes the former to liability in case of breach,” argued city lawyer Alex Matovu.
Speaking at the closure of the second Annual Labour and Employment e-Conference in Kampala, Matovu said that there is need to be fairly certain whether any decisions concerning employees are within the law.
Business law firm, Signum Advocates organised the e-Conference under the theme; “Business and Employment Sustainability amidst the COVID-19 Crisis” which attracted panelists among them; human resource managers, corporate managers, lawyers and finance experts who discussed the ongoing disruptions in the business world and how they have affected labour relations.
According to Matovu, while most employers may quickly move to lay off, it is useful to start by exploring other options that will help businesses manage costs without termination.
“It is crucial to engage the services of a lawyer so as to make sound legal decisions.
It is also important to have policy audits at the workplace to make sure the policies to be used within this period are within the acceptable legal framework,” said Matovu, the Organising Committee Chairperson of the e-Conference.
While responding to questions regarding the legal issues surrounding business and employment survival in the days of the Covid-19 pandemic, Patson Arinaitwe, one of the partners at Signum Advocates and a panellist at the e-Conference, cited remote working as one of the aspects raising concerns around occupational health and safety among other legal challenges.
Helping employees cope
“Employers have an obligation to provide their employees with tools of trade especially for those working remotely. It is also likely that there will be many cases of collective terminations; employers need to know the prescribed procedure under employment law to ensure that these terminations are conducted within the precincts of the law,” he warned.
While presenting at the conference, former deputy managing director of the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), Geraldine Ssali said that Uganda operates a social security scheme that has limited benefits and, therefore, it is difficult to channel money to a benefit it was not meant to offer.
She reasoned, however, that the current standoff on access to social security funds can be resolved by amending the law and ultimately for Uganda’s to improve on their saving culture.
“Even if such a fund was to be rolled out in Uganda, it would be contingent on certain qualifications. Not every citizen would get this money. So, clearly the long term view should be for Ugandans to improve on the culture of saving to ensure that we are better prepared whenever such pandemics hit,” Ms Ssali said.