Review employment Bill before it backfires

What you need to know:

The issue: 
Employment Bill. 

Our view:  
We can still protect casual workers and other categories without imposing unnecessary extra burden to employers.

On Wednesday, Parliament considered and passed The Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022. The intention of the law is good but its implementation, if not reviewed, might boomerang on our economy and even erode the few options available for millions of jobless Ugandans who are still stuck at the bottom of the country’s economic pyramid.

In its Non-Standard Employment report, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), describes casual employment as a contemporary feature of labour markets around the world, and that this category, has grown in importance, even in industrialised countries. In Bangladesh and India, nearly two-thirds of wage employment is casual; in Uganda, Mali and Zimbabwe and many developing nations, one in three employees is casual. In Australia, where casual employment is a specific employment category, one out of four employees is casual.

For the record, casualisation is not good, it clutters the economy and perpetuates job insecurity, unpredictable working hours and limited opportunities for career progression. However, as ILO observed, casualisation is not something you stop through legislation. It remains a necessary evil particularly for countries struggling with high levels of youth unemployment, poor conditions of works, job insecurity, social insecurity, technical know who, nepotism, poverty and corruption. 

For the victims of such tribulations in the economy, the option is either travel abroad, mainly in the Middle East, or taking on jobs (in both private and public sector) without rights and benefits. In our view, without coercing employers in the law, we propose a win-win social protection window that safeguards casual workers and ensures that all employees benefit from social protection coverage.

On account of the many teething problems in our economy, casual workers are occupying positions that are permanent in nature. It’s a conundrum worsened by the government foot-dragging on minimum wage. Introducing contracts for casual labourers after six months without establishing a minimum wage is like putting the cart before the horse.
While the Bill attempts to protect casual workers against exploitation, the provision that expands the definitions of the contract of service and employee to cater for casual and domestic work, including maids and guards, overlooks the ramifications of such a law in a struggling economy where more than 50 jobless Ugandans chase one job opportunity. 

Our view is that we can still protect casual workers and other categories without imposing unnecessary extra burden to employers who are recovering from a deadly pandemic. 

The provisions in the law that require any form of casual employment beyond six months to have formal written contracts, spelling out the role, responsibilities, payment, and benefits, should be revised and safeguards put in place before hell breaks loose in the labour market.