On whose side is Notu’s Owere?

What you need to know:

  • Notu and Parliament should not beg for minimum wage which workers of Uganda are entitled to as a right.   

Events in Uganda never cease to amaze, amuse, disappoint and offend in almost equal measure. On May 1, Uganda, Africa and the World celebrated Labour Day, aka International Workers Day. The national celebrations took place at Kololo Independence Grounds, Kampala.

The workers of Uganda were represented at the event by several senior officials of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) led by long-serving chairman general Usher Wilson Owere who spoke on behalf of the workers.

At the end of a long and comical speech which frankly left a lot to be desired, I wondered on whose side Owere belongs to! Does he belong to the side of the exploited, impoverished, humiliated and oppressed workers of Uganda or has he crossed the chasm and now belongs to the other side of arrogant, callous and greedy exploiters and oppressors of the workers of Uganda?

Like me, many Ugandans I have talked to got the impression that Owere appears too cosy with the NRM regime. One hopes that he has not been compromised. It’s a question which Uganda’s workers must ask and demand an honest answer from the leadership of Notu.

By definition, a trade union is an organisation of workers in a trade, group of trades or professions formed to promote and protect workers’ interests and rights. One of the cardinal rights of workers which a trade union worth its name should advance and fight relentlessly for is the right to a minimum wage. 

The chairman general of Notu hardly mentioned and addressed the fact that millions of Uganda’s workers have been deliberately denied minimum wage by the NRM regime since 1986, almost 40 years. He instead went out of his way to please a man whom the master of ceremonies (MC) erroneously called “chief worker” but was rudely rebuffed by Sabalwanyi who corrected the MC by saying he is not a worker, but a prominent member of Uganda’s bourgeoisie, or middle class.

The last time Uganda’s workers were granted minimum wage was in 1984 and it was done by the second UPC government. Notu and Parliament should not beg for minimum wage which workers of Uganda are entitled to as a right, not as a favour. The fake and dishonest argument that lack of a minimum wage for Uganda’s workers will somehow attract foreign investment and foreign investors is absurd, hollow and ridiculous. It’s like saying the earth is flat and centre of the universe as was believed for many centuries by men of old.

Parliament should enact a minimum wage law as a matter of urgency. It’s a disgrace, embarrassing and unacceptable that Uganda is one of a few member states of the International Labour Organisation which does not have a minimum wage for her workers.

Notu was established by Decree No. 29 of 1973 by the much maligned Idi Amin regime which many Ugandans, especially those in the central region, now look at with nostalgia as part of the good old days of the 1960s and 1970s. Notu must champion and spearhead efforts to significantly improve wages and labour conditions of the workers of Uganda. That is the mandate and raison d’etre of Notu, especially the leadership of Notu which must stop dancing to the tune of the NRM regime.

The workers and wananchi of Uganda must bury their petty ethnic and political differences, join hands, unite and struggle together for their inalienable rights, including the right to decent work, a minimum wage and a living wage. Aluta continua! Victory is certain.

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.