Employees’ Rights: Who is looking out for the underdog?
“omutu wawansi” A common rephrase used by many Ugandans lately to mean a layperson. Many Ugandans identify as part of this group of people. The underdog! An average Ugandan who earns an average of ten thousand to one million Ugandan shillings per month. From a boda boda rider to a domestic helper to the corporate person (working eight to five). These are the “bamutu bawansi”.
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world with the majority population being below the age of 14 years old. This means that the country’s task force or base is limited since the laws prohibit children below the ages of 14 from working or being employed and retirement age is at 75years (under the labour laws).
The Parliament of Uganda in 2019 tabled an Employment amendment Bill whose objective is to operationalize the provisions of Article 40 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda to all categories of workers in Uganda. This Bill is important because it seeks to regulate employment of domestic workers and casual employees in Uganda so as to improve their working conditions, to provide for compulsory registration and licensing of recruitment agencies for domestic workers and manual labourers, to provide for an explicit formula for calculation of severance pay, to remove the conditions attached to payment of severance pay among other key changes.
The Employment Act of 2006 outlines the rights of employees including, contract of service, termination of contract, termination notices and protection of wages, hours of work, rest and holidays, employment of women and many others. But how many of these rights are realised? How operational are they in Uganda? If an employer abuses any of these rights, can an employee seek a redress?
The Employment Act and Labour Act provide for the right to unionize and collectively bargain. An employee under a labour union can take their grievance through a labour union to a labour officer who will determine the case. However, this unfortunately remains theoretical.
From a global scope, employment rights are viewed as a core component of the modern corpus of human rights as captured in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Uganda is bound. Many advocacy groups on workers’ rights have come up to lobby for favourable policies like gender-based policies and affirmative action policies among other things.