Em­ploy­ees’ Rights: Who is look­ing out for the un­der­dog?

By: Timothy Chemonges

“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.