MPs tighten rules for hiring casual workers

Members of Parliament during the plenary chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Mr Thomas Tayebwa, at Parliament on May 25, 2023. PHOTO/ DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The Act provides that where an employer lays off a casual employee and the employer rehires the casual employee within a period of three months, the casual employment shall be regarded as continuous, writes Franklin Draku.

Hiring casual labourers, among them house-helps and guards, in Uganda, will require a written contract, if President Museveni signs a Bill that Parliament enacted on Wednesday into law.

The passed Employment Act (Amendment) Bill, 2022 prohibits the employment of a person as a casual labourer for six continuous months or more. 

It provides that such a casual worker after half a year on the job will automatically become an employee with full benefits while those rehired after three months of sacking would be deemed to have had a continuous working engagement.

Members of Parliament (MPs) defended the provisions, which potentially slap new and expensive obligations on employers that rely more on temporary hires, as necessary to clothe against exploitation by employers.

The Act will become law if President Museveni signs it, but its provisions will not apply retrospectively, meaning the changes will have no implication on any subsisting employer relations with casual hires.

Lawmakers during the debate on the Bill argued that investors and other players in the job market have profited by circumventing commensurate rewards for labour by hiring skilled manpower on a temporary basis.

This, they said, deprives casual employees of assured benefits such as salary/wages, pension contributions, workplace safety and rights besides employers skipping tax and other statutory obligations. 

Parliament also made provisions on wide reforms to labour externalisation arrangements, varied the terms of terminating an employee’s services on the basis of ill health and in last-minute changes rejected proposals for employers to provide breastfeeding rooms/facilities at workplaces.

Below are excerpts of the key provisions:
Casuals to become staff

The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which Parliament passed into an Act on Wednesday provides that “a person shall not employ another person as a casual employee for a continuous period exceeding six months”. 

A casual worker in a non-permanent staff, among them the majority of domestic workers and guards, is paid wages and not eligible for full employee benefits such as regular income, medical cover and National Social Security Fund (NSSF) membership and remittances.

Most do not have written contracts specifying the rights and obligations of the employer and casual employee and employers do not also deduct and remit Pay As You Earn (PAYE) tax to Uganda Revenue Authority on their behalf. 

In the debate preceding the enactment of the Bill, MPs said these lapses in law and practice render casual hires vulnerable to abuse by employers, a flaw the Act seeks to fix.  

“Where a person employs another person as a casual employee for a period exceeding six months, the person shall, at the expiry of the six months, be deemed to have entered into a contract of service with the casual employee,” it reads in part.

In a provision that appeared worded to prevent employers from sacking and rehiring casual workers in order to circumvent the six-month threshold of automatic conversion to staff, the Act provides that: “Where an employer lays off a casual employee and the employer rehires the casual employee within a period of three months, the casual employment shall be regarded as continuous.” MPs noted that whereas the 2011 Employment Regulations regulates casual employment, the main Employment Act, 2006 lacked substantive provisions to support the enforcement of the regulations on casual employment.

“This has resulted in the exploitation of the labour force, depriving such workers of the rights as employees’ enshrined in the Employment Act, 2006 and social protection which in the long-term increases government expenditures on such workers, especially in their old ages,” the passed Bill reads in part.

Sacking over sickness
Clause 8 of the amended version of the original law extends the period when services of an employee can be terminated for inability to perform due to sickness from the current two to six months.

“An employer shall, before terminating the contract of service of an employee on the ground of sickness under subsection (1) (f), seek the opinion of the medical doctor relating to the medical condition of the employee,” the Act states.

No jobs for illegal migrants
The Act bars illegal migrants from seeking employment in Uganda or using Uganda as a transit route to a third-party country for employment purposes.

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For example, Clause 7 amends section 39A of the Employment Act to state that a person shall not facilitate the illicit or concealed movement of persons for employment abroad by organising the departure, transit or arrival of the persons in Uganda or give assistance to any organisation for that purpose.

“A recruitment agency shall not recruit a person whom the recruitment agency knows to be unlawfully present in Uganda,” reads the legislation passed on Wednesday. 

It prohibits a recruitment agency in Uganda not to transact business without a licence issued by the Minister, in this case, the in-charge Labour, valid for a period of two years from the date of issue.

Penalties for recruiters
Only a company incorporated under the Companies Act, 2012, shall be licensed to operate a recruitment agency.

“A recruitment agency granted a licence under this Act shall submit a report of its operations to the Commissioner of employment services at the end of every calendar year,” the Act provides. It bars companies and the directors whose licence was cancelled within the 5 years before the date of the new application from being re-licensed.

A company or its directors/shareholders convicted of an offence relating to the illegal recruitment of workers or trafficking shall not, under the new legislation, be eligible for registration for licencing.

For external recruitment agencies, they will only be allowed to recruit Ugandans upon a job order, subject to approval by the Commissioner of Employment Services.

It stipulates that a recruitment agency which contravenes this provision commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding one thousand currency points (Shs20 million).

Contracts for foreign job
The Act seeks to consign to history piles of complaints regarding the abuse of rights of Ugandan migrant workers in mainly the Middle East by requiring labour export companies to secure work contracts duly counter-approved by the Uganda government before the workers board outbound flights.

It obliges recruitment agencies to ensure that the contract of employment is not prohibited under the laws of Uganda or is in accordance with the laws of the country where the person is to be employed and assume full responsibility for all claims which may arise in connection with the use of the licence of the agency.

Such a labour exporter is also required to maintain a record of all persons it recruits, including names and addresses, contracts of employment, biodata, passport photographs and particulars of the next-of-kins.

Repatriation of migrant workers
Under the Act, a recruitment agency shall not recruit a person for employment abroad unless the contract of employment provides for the right of the employee to be repatriated at the expense of the employer upon lapse or legal termination of the job contract or the employee’s death.

Rejected changes
Maternity/paternity leave 

A proposal to increase maternity leave from 60 to 90 working days months and to vary paternity leave from four days to two weeks were rejected on grounds that lengthy stay-away of an employee could potentially scare employers from hiring women in reproductive age.

Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka swayed the House with his submission that “ninety working days plus the weekends translates into 122 days off duty”. “You are telling the employer that this person will be out of work for a quarter of the year and that you have to continue paying them their full wage?” Mr Kiryowa said.