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Challenge of accessing labour justice

On Wednesday, May 1, Uganda will mark International Labour Day which is observed annually as a public holiday to enable millions of Ugandans, Africans and people worldwide to commemorate the enormous contributions and achievements of the gallant workers of Uganda, Africa and the world. The national celebrations will take place at Mukabura Grounds, Fort Portal City.

The theme for Labour Day 2024 is, ‘Improving Access to Labour Justice: A Prerequisite for Increased Productivity’ which is timely because access to labour justice is a serious problem facing Uganda’s workers.

The key issues in this regard include low wages, unpaid wages, arbitrary termination, summary dismissal and hazardous working conditions which violate the labour rights of workers. Labour justice is by definition the principle of equity and moral rightness to the upholding of what is just and fair, in accordance with prescribed and accepted law or standards.

The importance and dignity of work is acknowledged in the Scriptures. On the subject of work, Jesus Christ told Jewish authorities who were persecuting him as follows: “My Father is always working, and I too must work.” John 5: 17 (GNB)

Against this background, it’s disappointing, shameful and unacceptable that unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, today’s generation of Ugandans despise work.

Most of Uganda’s young men do not like to work. They prefer “kitu kidogo” from parents, uncles, politicians and government.

The negative attitude towards work is partly a legacy of the NRM regime which has rolled out dubious programmes like Entandikwa, Bona Bagaggawale, Emyooga and Parish Development Model which wananchi treat as handouts for political support to NRM. Ugandans have an obligation and responsibility to work. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.” 2 Thessalonians: 3:10 (GNB)

Uganda is sadly one of the countries in Africa which do not have minimum wage for workers. It’s not because Ugandan workers do not deserve minimum wage, but primarily due to the misguided and mistaken thinking and belief that setting minimum wage will drive away foreign investors; in addition, that an enabling environment should be created before Uganda’s workers are granted minimum wage. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

On the contrary, access to labour justice including a minimum wage will stimulate rapid economic growth, increase labour productivity, ensure commitment to work and enhance household income for the working class of Uganda, the majority of whom are women.

One is tempted to conclude that government does not appreciate and care about the needs, plight and welfare of workers of Uganda. Uganda’s principal assets are not oil, coffee and factories, but the people of Uganda, especially the youth.

The struggle for minimum wage in Uganda started in 1935 when the British colonial regime introduced minimum wage boards to determine minimum wage for unskilled employees. The boards were appointed in 1947 and the first minimum wage was set in 1950. Minimum Wages Advisory Boards and Wages Councils Act was enacted by the Colonial Legislative Council in 1957.

After independence in 1962, the first UPC government established the MinimumWage Advisory Board which fixed minimum wage for workers in 1965 and 1970. The minimum wage was revised by the second UPC government in 1984.

Unlike its predecessors, including the British colonial regime, the NRM government has rejected several demands made by the workers of Uganda, through NOTU and workers MPs, for a minimum wage. The unfair position adopted by government is indefensible, unpatriotic and unacceptable. Workers unite, defend their rights and struggle peacefully, lawfully and relentlessly for minimum wage and access to labour justice which is a fundamental right.

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Written by Harold Acemah (0)

Mr Acemah is a political scientist and retired career diplomat.

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