At least 300 workers at the Isimba hydropower dam project that is under construction in Nampanyi village, Busaana Sub-county in Kayunga District, have laid down their tools, protesting against poor pay and alleged mistreatment by their Chinese employers.
The employees on Wednesday demonstrated against what they called “low wages and continued harassment” by International Water and Electricity Cooperation company managers.
The workers, mostly casual labourers, demanded that their daily wages be increased from Shs6,000 to a substantive amount to enable them meet their basic needs.
The pay, they said, is not commensurate with the hard work they are subjected to on a daily basis.
The International Water and Electricity Cooperation company was contracted by the government to construct the $556m (about Shs1.8 trillion) Isimba hydropower project. The dam is expected to generate 183 megawatts upon completion.
The irate workers, who first sat down in the middle of road leading to the dam, later hurled insults at the Chinese, calling them “exploiters”.
The Kayunga deputy Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr Yahaya Were, and riot police swung into action to calm down the striking workers.
“We report for duty at exactly 7am and leave at 7pm yet there is no overtime allowance paid to us for working for extra time,” Mr Innocent Panacho, one of the workers, said.
He added: “We have also not been given appointment letters despite working for two years,” he added.
They also claimed that contractors beat them up.
“My colleague was kicked in the stomach by our Chinese boss who was supervising us just because he delayed by seconds to give him an iron bar,” Mr John Mugoya, another employee said.
They said despite informing government officials from the Ministry of Energy who visited the site about the inhuman treatment they are subjected to, nothing had changed.
“We have become slaves in our own country because even if we report the injustices to people from the Ministry of Energy who permanently stay at the site, they shield the Chinese, instead of addressing our grievances,” Mr Mugoya added.
The workers vowed to petition President Museveni and Parliament to intervene.
After calming down the workers, the deputy RDC held a closed-door meeting with the contractors led by Mr Chau, who identified himself as Isimba dam site engineer.
Mr Were asked the workers to be patient as they address their concerns.
Mr Chau dismissed claims by the workers that they were being mistreated. He added that the workers agreed to the wages they are currently paid before they were recruited.
He wondered why they are demanding more pay.
“When we recruited them, they agreed to work for Shs6,000 per day. I am wondering why they are demanding more pay?” Mr Chau asked.