Tororo locals cry out for jobs, better pay at phosphate plant

Tuesday August 21 2018

Tororo locals cry out jobs better pay phosphate plant

In progress. The phosphate factory under construction in Osukuru Sub-county, Tororo District. The plant will be commissioned on October 9. PHOTO BY ISAIAH KITIMBO. 

By Isaiah Kitimbo

For six months now, they have been camping in anticipation of being hired. But this dream seems bleak for a group of young men and women, majority school dropouts, who want to work as casual labourers at an organic fertiliser plant, which is under construction in Osukuru Sub-county, Tororo District.
“I can do any job,” says Norah Akello, a resident of Agululu Village in Tororo District.
“They have been promising us. We have been coming here since February,” adds the 32-year-old Primary Seven dropout.

Hellen Adikini, 30, from Osukuru, Suzan Aketch, 32, (Abuli C Village), and Juliet Akello,32, of Osia Magolo Village in Tororo District are the other examples of hundreds of people who throng the construction site of Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group (U) Ltd-owned Sukulu Phosphate Factory in search of jobs every day.

Their plight depicts the rising rate of unemployment in the country. At the site, both the young and the old cast desperate faces. An elderly woman, who asked not to be named in order to speak freely, says the company should at least consider the young, especially locals.

Indeed, company officials say locals have been given priority. Some 500 people are providing casual labour at the construction site and the number is expected to rise to 2,000 when it starts full production next year, according to Ms Jane Guo, the chief executive officer of Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group (U) Ltd.

Poor working conditions
However, as many locals fight hard to get hired, some of the employed, are already complaining of mistreatment, underpay and job insecurity.

Zackaliya Mwotoko, a resident of Mukuju, Tororo District, says he was fired when he complained about poor pay.
“I was fired after working for only two weeks. I used to get Shs2,000 as lunch allowance, and Shs900 (wages) per hour every day, which cannot support my family of eight. This pay should be increased to at least Shs25,000 per day,” says Mwotoko, a mason.

Denis Ocheng, a resident of Agululu A Village, who works as a driver at the factory, accuses contractors of cutting their pay and wants Dongsong to pay them directly.

A visit to the construction site on July 19 highlighted the deplorable working conditions, typical of many construction sites in the country. Many workers were working without safety gear such as gumboots, helmets, overalls, gloves and dust masks. Heavy clouds of dust hang in the air as trucks ferried construction materials at the site, posing a health risk to many workers and the community.

It is against that backdrop that a trade union, the Uganda Building Construction, Civil Engineering, Cement and Allied Workers Union, has oscillated to demand better working conditions for the employees.
Mr Silver Ndejjo Odoi, the union field organiser, says: “Our role is to help workers in the construction, building materials, cement, quarries and allied workers. These are our members.”

He says the union has observed a number of irregularities in the recruitment process at the new fertiliser factory.
“More than 1,000 workers have no contracts but they are recruited casually without appointment letters. Pay is negotiated verbally between Shs8,000 and Shs10,000 per day. Some workers have not been paid for two to three months. No IDs are given, the only identification is a reflector jacket, helmet and gumboots that are given to a few of them,” he says.

Mr Odoi, who pitched camp at the construction site to purposely register members last month, says, “We are intervening as a trade union. I have so far registered 300 workers to be recruited in the union; the union management will take the initiative to interact with their employer to streamline operations and the recruitment process,” he says.

However, Ms Guo explains that the company has hired contractors, who are handling construction of the plant whose fertiliser section will be commissioned on October 9.

About curbing dust in the area, she says the company plans to fix the inland roads at the construction site that will be built with concrete slabs.

According to Mr Samuel Baker Okallany, the general manager of Worker Bee Employment Bureau Ltd, a labour hiring agency that was contracted by Dongsong, casual workers are paid cash while permanent employees are paid through the bank.

“We have two types of employees. The casual workers are hired on a temporary basis and are paid eight hours a day. Extra time is also considered. Dongsong pays according to attendance, which is determined by the clock-in system. The challenge is that many workers do not want to register and as Worker Bee Employment Bureau Ltd, we cannot do much. Meanwhile the permanent staff who are directly under Dongsong are paid through the bank,” he explains.

About providing protective gear to workers, Mr Okallany says currently, the firm provides workers with helmets, reflector jackets and gumboots. He says other protective gears such dust masks and overalls will be given when the plant starts production.

Asked why some workers did not have the above protective gears, he clarified that some contractors do not provide them but workers are quick to blame Worker Bee Employment Bureau Ltd because it is a leading contractor on site.

About contracts, he says, “As soon as someone is recruited, they are given probation contracts for two months while permanent workers sign contracts.”

Health and safety standards in the country
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006:-
It is the duty of employers to protect workers.
Employer to consult with workers’ organistaions.
Employer to monitor and control the release of dangerous substances into the environment.
Employer to provide protective gear.
Employer to supervise health of workers.
Employer to provide safe premises.
Employer to display guide safety precautions.

The Sukulu Phosphate Factory is located 6km from Osukuru Trading Centre on the Tororo-Malaba road. It is owned by Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group (U) Ltd, a Chinese company licensed to mine phosphate in Osukuru Hills in Tororo District. Apart from fertilisers, the factory will also manufacture construction materials such as steel, glass and unbaked bricks.

The plant is being built on 600 acres of land in Osukuru Sub-county, Tororo District. Total investment is $650m (about Shs2.2 trillion) mobilised from Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), said to be the world’s most valuable bank by market capitalisation.

President Museveni launched the construction of the complex in August 2014. The construction work was expected to be completed by the end of this year. However, there were delays in securing funding from the banks, and also technology that will be employed.

The company is expected to generate $600 million annually and provide more then 1, 000 jobs to Ugandans. In 2012, M/S Guangzhou Dongsong Energy Group Company (U) Ltd embarked on geological explorations of the hills to verify the reserves.
The company signed a mineral development agreement with government to establish the comprehensive plant.