44% of essential workers underpaid, says ILO

The report highlights health workers as some of the underpaid key employees. Photo / File 

What you need to know:

  • At 44 percent, Uganda ranks fourth among countries with the highest number of underpaid essential workers 

At least 44 percent of Uganda’s essential workers are underpaid, the 2023 International Labour Organisation World Employment and Social Outlook, has indicated. 

The 44 percent is way higher than the global average of 29 percent but relatively lower than East Africa’s biggest economy - Kenya – which has 50 percent of its key workers underpaid.  

The report, which sheds light on critical sectors of different global economies, including Uganda, notes that whereas sectors such as health and security are critical, especially during emergency episodes such as Covid-19, workers in such sectors continue to earn the lowest wages, despite working for  long hours. 

ILO also indicates that some of the workers under the above sectors are subjected to indecent conditions, characterised by long hours of deployment and delayed wages and salaries. 

The report also highlights employees in the above sectors as some of those that may have had the most significant role during Covid-19.

Therefore, ILO noted, wages and working conditions of such workers need to be improved to drive efficiency and labour satisfaction. 

The UN agency indicates that a little more than 52 percent of the world’s workforce is made up of key workers in health, food production and delivery systems, retail, security, technical and clerical, cleaning and sanitation, transport, and manual sectors. 

The report also notes that Kenya, at 50 percent, has the highest percentage of underpaid key workers among the 90 sampled countries while Portugal, at 5 percent, has the lowest. 

Uganda is ranked at fourth, with 44 percent of its key workers receiving inadequate pay. 

The report also reveals that majority of people who died from Covid-19 were important workers who contracted the disease while performing their duties, which highlights a lack of workplace safety in global workspaces. 

Mr Gilbert Houngbo, the ILO director general, noted that it was important that key workers’ wages and working conditions are improved to reflect their value to society as it was revealed during Covid-19. 

“Valuing key workers means ensuring that they receive adequate pay and work in good conditions. Decent work is an objective for all workers, but it is particularly critical for key workers, who provide vital necessities and services both in good and bad times,” Mr Houngbo said.

Mr Charles Bakkabulindi, a Workers MP, has previously argued that the issue of low pay should universally be addressed through legislating on the need to institute a minimum wage. 

“The problem of low pay is largely because we don’t have a minimum wage. There needs to be sector-based payment standardisation, which would create a minimum wage for domestic workers, government workers, industrial workers, and agricultural sector workers,” he said. 

Low pay 

The National Labour Force Survey 2021, shows that with more than 45 million Ugandans, about 20 million people do paid work but less than half of these are paid more than Sh200,000 per month.

The low pay has been worsened by rising cost of living occasioned by high inflation.


You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.