Solidarity wages key in employment sector

Venesio Bwambale Bhangyi

What you need to know:

  • Secondly, our honourable Members of Parliament have approved or will approve a budgetary allocation in billions of shillings to increase their allowances. 

In recent weeks, three key stories related to employment wages were dominant in Uganda. First, “government scientists” will be paid handsome wages, with each degree holders earning about Shs4 million.

Secondly, our honourable Members of Parliament have approved or will approve a budgetary allocation in billions of shillings to increase their allowances.  Thirdly, a recent Bank of Uganda report indicated that 99 percent of the 22.8 million Ugandan workers earn less than Shs1 million per month, with a shocking half of these workers earning less than Shs150,000 in monthly wages. 

This situation is not surprising. In the absence of collective bargaining forums and a structured social democratic government policy on wages, survival politics has taken over the wage determination processes in the country. Those who think that they can hurt the country most (teachers, doctors, nurses) demand more wages by threatening to withdraw labour.  Those in entities where wages can be self-rewarded are going for enhancements, such as Parliament.

A host of government agencies have their own wage structures different from the mainstream public service. And those whose voices can reach the highest office of the land could have their wages enhanced in an instant. The impact can be analysed through failings in public service spirit, public interest spirit, public work ethic and consequently public service delivery.

There is a possibility of correcting the issues mentioned through solidarity wage strategies. In principle, a solidarity wage regime is not fixed by government or employers. It is determined by collective workers unions or professional associations in dialogue with the sector employers.

The theory of solidarity wages holds that the pay difference between the highest and lowest paid professional employee should be held to the minimum irrespective of rank, education, and practice experience. In this case, the professional associations set the minimum and maximum wage limits in their occupations.

This is derived from the understanding that: (a) all employees contribute towards a sector goal, (b) wages should champion equity, fairness, and social justice, (c) all workers have similar minimum basket of living costs and standards essential for humane living within a country context, and (d) that fairness and equity at work drives productivity.

In this framework, when there is disagreement over wages, the association does not call for industrial action, but issues an advisory asking its members not to join or work in that sector. Consequently, the sector is deprived of their skill and comes back to the negotiation table.

The professional associations are also equally careful not to overprice themselves, recognising that wages should fit in the economic realities, and that supply of labour is a professional contribution for the public good.

In view of the solidarity wages argument, government must declare war on wage inequalities, unfairness, and injustices. Two paths are suggested as possibilities here. Firstly, the government’s path, where solidarity wages should be determined by a single government entity, in consultation with stakeholders, and in awareness of the state of the economy and the interconnected nature of public offices.  Legal reforms are essential to structure all the powers of salary determination and vest them in the Ministry of Public Service. Institutional reforms are also essential, with the creation of a specialist “salary affairs” department within the ministry.

Secondly, the professional associations path. Professional occupations in the medium to long term should associate or unionise. This will enable them to develop the masses, structures, and capacity to engage employers meaningfully. 

In this case, it is the duty of each professional to associate with fellow professionals to build this force. Both paths are possibilities, but until then, it holds that the chaotic wage determination in Uganda’s public sector is against the values of social democracy and collective citizens welfare.  

Venesio Bwambale Bhangyi is a Ugandan thinker, visiting lecturer, and practitioner in social work, social welfare, and social development. [email protected]

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