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Fight over Minimum Wage Bill

The arguments for are as varied as those against the minimum wage 

Kampala, Uganda | PATRICIA AKANKWATSA | A fresh fight is looming between workers’ unions and representatives in Parliament and the government over new proposals to have a minimum wage law.

President Yoweri Museveni returned the proposed Minimum Wage Bill 2018 to Parliament on Aug.21 saying the new proposals as contained in the Minimum Wage Bill 2018 are already covered in the existing law.This, President Museveni said, was based on the advice from the Attorney General, William Byaruhanga.

However, the architect of the proposed law, Arinaitwe Rwakajara, who also serves as Workers’ Member of Parliament, says he plans to re-table the Bill in Parliament. He says the President was ill advised to think that there exist laws that cater for the minimum wage for the working population.

A minimum wage is the minimum sum of money payable to a worker for work performed or services rendered within a given period to cover the minimum needs of the worker, his or her family, in light of national economic and social conditions, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Rwakajara says the Bill seeks to address the gaps in the current Minimum Wage Advisory Board Act by providing for an employee-employer led minimum wage determination based on various sectors.

“Currently, people cannot dictate what they wish to be paid and therefore live at the mercy of their employers. This is something we intend to correct,” he said.

The proposed law which was passed by Parliament in February this year seeks to empower the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development to appoint a Minimum Wages Board to fix all minimum wages for various sectors.

The Bill also intends to give mandate to the labour minister to announce the minimum wages annually for both public and private sectors.

The idea of minimum wage legislation was first pioneered in Australia and New Zealand (then British Colonies) from whom Great Britain adopted the minimum wage.

According to Matthew B. Hammond in his paper, ’the Minimum Wage in Great Britain and Australia,’ the motive behind the establishment of the minimum wage in British Australia was two-fold; to ‘prevent strikes and lock outs’ and to halt the ‘payment by an employer to his workers of a wage that is insufficient to purchase for them the necessities of life.’

Currently, only Kenya and Tanzania have minimum wage-related laws in the East African region. However, in Uganda, the question whether to fix a minimum wage for the labour market remains unresolved for some time now for fear that it will increase the cost of production and hinder the country’s faster economic growth and development.

Even a constitutional petition filed by the Platform for Labour Action in 2006 to challenge ‘the current minimum wage’ as being ‘inconsistent with the Constitution’ was dismissed on technicalities.

Currently, the minimum wage stands at Shs 6,000 that was set up in 1984. The National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) chairperson, Wilson Usher Owere, told The Independent in an interview that there is need for the Bill to create harmony in the work environment.

“The minimum wage can help minimize injustice and exploitation of workers,” he said, adding that President was misled by the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Janat Mukwaya.

Owere said President Museveni must heed to the directive of International Labour Organisation to put in place a minimum wage.

“What the old law provides is to regulate everything but the bill provides to regulate sector by sector,” he said. “We have a formal and informal sector, they earn differently, so their minimum wage has to be different too.”

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