By Patrick Kagenda
With a population of just under 500, 000 inhabitants, Kisoro, located in South-West Uganda, is definitely a small and quiet district. But it became a beehive of activity when an influx of thousands of people descended upon it on May 1 to commemorate Labour Day. The colourful function, at which President Yoweri Museveni was the chief guest, was held at St. Paul’s Mutolere Secondary School in Bufumbira East Constituency. As usual, workers from all the various sectors were represented in big numbers together with their representatives in Parliament and trade union officials who obviously had only one thing on their mind – the plight of workers in the country.
Thanks to the new state-of-the-art 300-mile tarmac road, Kisoro is beginning to witness an influx of private sector investment. Besides the many hospitality facilities that have sprung up to tap into the growing tourism industry, Kisoro is also witnessing tremendous growth in value-addition industries.
For example, Birunga Diary, the manufacturers of Ever-Fresh UHT milk, have their home there. Two years ago, another factory; Kisoro Potato Processing Limited (KPPL) owned by Kampala businessman Tom Mugenga, opened shop. A tea factory is also under construction and hopes are high that it would become one of the largest employers in the district.
Responding to the Trade Union bosses, who queried the government’s reluctance to put in place a minimum wage for Ugandans, Museveni, like he has been for decades, declined to offer any promises. Instead, he called for patience from the Ugandan labor force saying that once the priorities have been fully addressed, government would look into the issue of enhancing the remuneration of workers and the establishment of the minimum wage. He however said he and his government are open to dialogue with trade unions and workers’ representatives on the issue of national priorities. “I want us to have a dialogue with trade unionists so that we agree on what is important for our country; is it the infrastructure or the big salaries,” he said.
Though Uganda remains the only country in the EAC that does not have a minimum wage, Muruli Mukasa, the minister of gender, labour and social development, said the government has shown commitment to workers with a supportive legal framework. For example, the Industrial Court is now fully functional and strict implementation of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 including the registration of workplaces, licensing and certification of equipment is being carried out. He stated that more than 800 workplaces have been registered so far. Ensuring occupational safety and health remains a function of the ministry of labour, which has appointed Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) inspectors. However, they are still few and are concentrated in Kampala. Of the 48 possible positions, only 26 are occupied leaving a deficit of 22 staff. Pius Bigirimana, the permanent secretary, said with the hospitality industry and other sectors booming in Kisoro, it was a fitting host for the Labour Day celebrations, which were held under the theme, ‘Accelerating social Economic Transformation through Promotion of decent work Agenda of Social Justice and Equity.’
President Museveni also criticized what he called the “negative attitude” of the civil service to towards investors and the private sector in general, which he said was hindering national development.
“The Private Sector from within and from outside, must be supported because they are key to our economic development and employment generation,” he said. As part of the celebrations, hundreds of citizens – drawn from a cross section of sectors such as health, education, industry and religion – were awarded various medals in recognition of their exemplary service to the country. The President also launched, a 300-page book titled, ‘Uganda: The Great Transformation,’ which was produced by The Independent Publications Ltd.