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May 22, 2008
Peer review: labour conditions appalling
Only 30% of employers observe labour laws

By Edris Kiggundu &
Micheal Mubangizi

A country assessment report on the social, economic and political environment has decried the poor working conditions that still obtain in private and public sectors, calling upon government to address the situation.

So grim is the picture, according to the voluminous 591-page report prepared by the Uganda African Peer Review Mechanism Commission, that roughly only one out of three firms (33%) in Uganda comply with labour and employment related laws in place.

A 22-member Uganda commission that compiled this report was supposed to ascertain whether Uganda conforms to the agreed political, economic and governance values as part of a self-monitoring mechanism for good governance under the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
It was chaired by Prof. Elisha Semakula and its members were drawn from various interest groups.

In June, at a summit of the African Union in Ghana, President Museveni is expected to present his country’s assessment report. Then a team of independent African peer reviewers led by Prof. Aedeji Adebayo will come here to verify the findings.

According to this voluminous report, many labourers earn meagre wages, others endure inhumane conditions while some are dismissed without justifiable reasons, notes the report. This has been aggravated by government’s failure to set a minimum wage, it adds.
“The minimum wage of Shs 6,000 per month fixed in 1984 is still in force. The minimum wages board recommended Shs 70,000 per month in the 1990s but this was reduced to Shs 58,000 per month. The new minimum wage was approved by Cabinet but has not been announced or put in place.”
The worst hit workers are those employed in the informal sector, where a majority of employers hardly know anything about labour laws.

There are cases of worker discrimination based on gender, the report notes, and many are not compensated in cases of injury at the workplace.
Part of the reason for the deteriorating labour conditions in the country, says the report, is the tremendous economic development that has seen an influx of foreign firms, many of which are bent on earning at all costs, even at the expense of employees.

The report further noted labour unions in Uganda, which ideally are supposed to defend, protect and promote the rights of workers, have instead been influenced by employers, politicians and individuals in government institutions.

In Uganda, the Industrial Court is mandated to arbitrate in labour disputes but the report says it has not been very active due to inadequacy of judges and resources.
Also, each district is supposed to have a Labour Officer to settle labour disputes but investigators discovered that only 30 out of 81 districts had such officers.
Independent Judiciary

The team also discovered that among the three arms of government, the public perceived the judiciary to be the most independent, while not surprisingly, the legislature is believed to be the least independent.

Perhaps a contributing factor could be the judiciary’s action last year to go on an unprecedented strike after security personnel invaded the High Court premises to re-arrest bailed suspects.
Yet even before this, the judiciary’s image as an independent body had been entrenched by a number of rulings that were perceived to be unfavourable to government.

As for the legislature, a number of people interviewed believed it was more of a rubber-stamping institution for the executive.

The report cites the Shs 5 million given to some MPs during the constitution amendment process in the Seventh Parliament, pointing out that many saw it as a bribe to support the removal of presidential term limits from the constitution.
“Whereas the NRM organization insisted that these funds were lawfully obtained, the timing raised controversies within and outside Parliament, with many people relating it to political corruption,” the report says.

The report also faults Parliament for amending the constitution to make it virtually impossible for the electorate to recall MPs under the multiparty system.
On economic governance and management, the report credits government for liberalising the financial sector and restructuring the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) that, it says, has improved revenue collection.

It however, urges government to broaden its tax base and reconstruct the war-ravaged northern Uganda.
On socio-economic development, the panel found “widespread perception that the rapid multiplication of districts has bloated public service expenditure, resulting in less resources being available for social and economic services.”

Overall, the report gives a clean bill of health on the state of the country’s economy, amplifying the political, economic and social achievements registered over the last 22 years while delving little into policy failures and misadventures of the NRM government.



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