Labour inspections will boost the fight against coronavirus

Monday June 29 2020

 

By Alex Asiimwe

The President guided on the key and essential workplaces such as factories, banks, restaurants, construction sites, supermarkets, wholesale facilities, among others that should remain operating during this lockdown.

All workplaces that are operating were given conditions on Covid-19 prevention and control measures.

In order to complement the efforts of the Ministry of Health (MoH) in containing this pandemic, the Directorate of Labour, Employment and Occupational Safety and Health in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development developed Covid-19 prevention at workplaces ---standard operating procedures (SOPs).

The SOPs are intended to ensure the safety and health of workers, employers and contractors during the fight against Covid-19. The SOPs were approved by the national taskforce on Covid-19.

To contextualise the SOPs in line with the national legal framework, s.10 of the Employment Act, 2006, it empowers the labour officer to enforce legal provisions relating to the conditions of work and protection of workers while engaged in their work. Similarly, s.11 of the same Act empowers the labour officers to close a workplace if he/she believes that there is imminent danger to health or safety of the workers.

Suffice to note that the s.13 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 provides that it is the duty of employers to protect as far as is reasonably practicable, all measures for the protection of his or her workers and the general public from the dangerous aspects of the employer’s undertaking at his or her own cost.

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The law makes it a mandate for employers to provide adequate and appropriate information, instructions, training and supervision necessary to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety and health of the employees, and the application and use of occupational safety and health measures, taking into account the functions and capabilities of the different categories of workers in an undertaking.

Therefore, the Covid-19 Prevention at Workplaces SOPs require employers to do as follows:

Establish a workplace Covid-19 taskforce of three to five workers. This committee is mandated to champion the Covid-19 prevention and control measures in a facility; maintain workplace hygiene which includes both hand washing facilities and tools for that purpose; put in place proper signage which includes informative, precaution, mandatory and prohibitive signage on Covid-19 prevention and control.

The SOPs also require the employer to implement social distancing. All employers are required to configure their work processes to Covid-19 prevention and control measures including social distancing in all company/organisation work places; respect employee rights which include not terminating employment of workers suffering from Covid-19 but instead granting them sick leave with pay in accordance with the Employment Act, 2006, Contract of Service and Collective Bargaining Agreement if any.

This also includes treating all workers with equality, dignity and respect, irrespective of their gender and migration status.

Employers should also be aware that s.23 of the OSH Act, 2006 provides for employers’ duty to conduct their undertaking in a way that ensures, as far as is reasonably practicable, that any person who is not in his or her employment but who may be affected by the undertaking, is not exposed to risks to his or her health.

Therefore, if there is sufficient evidence that a person who is not necessarily your worker contracts Covid-19 at your work place, then the law makes employers liable to pay for damages.

Accordingly, all Labour Officers across the country (159 officers) are conducting Covid-19 Specific Labour Inspections to ensure that all Covid-19 SOPs at workplaces are adhered to.

Employers are requested to utilise these labour offices in the fight against this pandemic.

The Writer is a Commissioner-Labour, Industrial Relations & Productivity, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development
Email: alex.asiimwe@mglsd.go.ug

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