Workers deserve minimum wage as a fundamental right

Sunday September 8 2019

Harold Acemah

Harold Acemah  

By Harold Acemah

The usually docile and rubber stamp Parliament of Uganda held a stormy debate which almost erupted in an uproar on August 27 over the question of minimum wage for the gallant, but grossly exploited workers of Uganda.
I would like to congratulate MPs on both sides of the political divide for joining hands and for standing up boldly to champion a fundamental right of the workers of Uganda.
According to a story published in Daily Monitor of August 28 titled, “Museveni rejects minimum wage law,” Sabalwanyi has adamantly refused to sign the Minimum Wage Bill, 2015, which Parliament passed in February this year because, according to the big man, the issues which the Bill seeks to address are already adequately covered by the Minimum Wages Advisory Boards and Wages Council Act.
The chairperson of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU), Mr Usher Wilson Owere, has openly disagreed with Sabalwanyi and is quoted by Daily Monitor saying that there is currently no law on minimum wage. I am inclined to believe Owere rather than those who have a tendency to tell the truth only occasionally and moreover by accident.

Minimum wage is a matter of social justice
The quest for minimum wage is a matter of social justice and the dignity of labour. Most member States of the International Labour Organization have enacted, in line with international law, appropriate domestic laws to provide for minimum wage, including developed capitalist countries such as USA, Canada, UK, Japan and EU member States.
In our region, all partner states of the East African Community (EAC) have enacted legislation to establish minimum wage. Uganda is the only odd man out, just as Uganda is the only major EAC country which does not have a two-term presidential limit. Frankly, it’s a disgrace!
The NRM regime has argued unconvincingly that lack of minimum wage in Uganda will somehow attract foreign investment to our country. I don’t know of any serious country which buys this absurd, false and ridiculous argument, certainly not our development partners.
Only fake investors would be impressed by a country which boasts about the fact that its workers do not enjoy legal protection provided by minimum wage and are left at the mercy of unscrupulous foreign investors and dishonest local traders.
I hardly need to remind Ugandans that the primary duty, obligation and responsibility of any government, especially of a democracy like Uganda, is to defend the interests of its citizens, not those of foreign investors.
For anybody to reject the Minimum Wage Bill is an insult to the workers of Uganda and shows a lack of appreciation of those who toil day and night to create wealth which a few callous, greedy and unpatriotic men have for years allocated to themselves for personal use.
Instead of preaching patriotism and singing patriotic songs, I wish the NRM regime could practise patriotism, and a good starting point is to enact a minimum wage law now.
To deny Ugandans minimum wage in the 21st Century is a gross violation of the human rights of workers who are entitled to and deserve protection from their government. Why should government place the selfish interests of foreign investors over and above the interests of the citizens of Uganda? Why should government give foreign investors many years of tax holiday, land and other generous incentives which Ugandan investors and businessmen do not enjoy?
NOTU should not kneel down before anybody and beg for minimum wage which the workers of Uganda were granted for the first time in 1964. The last time minimum wage was set for Ugandan workers was in 1984 and this was done by a progressive government which cared deeply about the welfare, interests and future of the people of Uganda and Africa.
The leadership of NOTU must have courage to stand up and defend the interests and rights of the workers of Uganda, without fear or favour.
I hope Parliament will not succumb to blackmail, bribery and intimidation and abandon the just struggle of Ugandans for minimum wage which is long overdue.
In the final analysis, minimum wage is a fundamental right of the workers of Uganda and an attempt to deny them that right is wrong and unacceptable.