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PLA spearheading protection of Uganda’s labour rights

Grace Mukwaya Lule is the executive director of Platform for Labour Action (PLA). She spoke to The Independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about their efforts towards protecting labour rights.

What are the key elements in your management philosophy as a manager?

Given the fact that PLA is a labour rights organization means that it has to be exemplary.  As such, we respect the rights of workers and this means that we treat our staff with dignity and adhering to the principles of descent work.  And as a manager, I sometimes delegate part of my work. However, there are certain tasks that I normally take full responsibility.

What is your assessment of labour management in reference to adherence to labour laws and rights in Uganda?

Uganda has labour laws such as the Employment Act which stipulates responsibilities of all workers and employers. And as a country, there are organizations or companies which adhere to the laws but there are also those who don’t.

There is also an issue of having most of the people in the informal economy which makes it hard to track where the labour laws are broken or observed. Even where it is tracked, the high poverty and unemployment rates makes many people vulnerable to abuse.

There is casualization of labour where many people don’t have contracts and even with those who have them, there is no guarantee for job security.

This coupled with ignorance of the population about labour laws, there is need to create awareness on labour issues both to the employers and workers. In the informal sector, the challenges are similar including work without pay, no adherence to workers compensation, safety issues and awareness of the laws. We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go especially in ensuring that we implement labour laws.

Statistics from UBOS indicate that about 2.75 million children in Uganda are engaged in child labour, 51% (1.4m) of whom are involved in hazardous work. What explains this trend?

Child labour is mainly due to poverty and the government’s poor social protection measures but also cultural beliefs that children contribute to work.

The challenge, however, is in measuring what constitutes child labour and how that can be addressed knowing well that children create free labour for the household in most communities.  The public also need to know at what age a child should be engaged in what activities.

If people are not aware that child labour is done without supervision of an elder and interferes with his rights say to education, then, the vice will continue.

What should be done to tame the practice?

The law is very clear on most things. What remains unclear to the everyday person is the demarcation between what child labour is and extending help at home.

For instance it is child labour when there is no supervision of an adult or if it interferes with her/his rights like education.  There should be social protection, for instance, for children whose parents cannot afford some basic needs such that they are not pushed into child labour.

Also, there must be measures for placements and resettlement when children are rescued from practices of child labour to ensure that they are well protected.

Analysts highlight poor skills and education as one of the main obstacles to improving Uganda‘s competitiveness in the labour market. What is your take on this?

I may not agree because in some instances it is purely lack of mentorship where people are recruited without being mentored. But there is also a high rate of underemployment where many people are employed below their capacity. If the education system produces sub standard people, how many of those are mentored to ensure that they fit into the work requirements because education alone is just a guiding tool. We wouldn’t be getting reports on Ugandans who work in other countries coming out as best performers.

Domestic and agricultural workers as well as workers in the informal sector are excluded from protection of labour laws. How are you working to protect such people?

The informal sector is bigger than what it is assumed. We do give legal aid to people who earn below $120 but we also give legal aid to others who earn a lot more. Such people may not have written contracts but they have a verbal contract where they are working and they are all protected only that the low levels of awareness on their part and on the part of employers fails them.

Most of the cases for domestic workers revolve around nonpayment of wages and that is why we are advocating for Uganda to ratify the International Labour Organisation convention No.189 on descent work for domestic workers such that we can have a regulation for such class of people.

The Ugandan government has long been reluctant to fix a minimum wage. How can a minimum wage be effective in reducing labour exploitation in Uganda?

In terms of pay, it will set a stepping stone per sector for workers to know their salary expectations unlike in a free market economy where only employers determine the pay. While it may not take away so much of the exploitation, it is a relief especially to the most vulnerable people who have a low bargaining power.

Where do you see PLA in the next few years?

We could do more comparisons at the community level such that we can be able to tackle other areas in relation to labour rights.

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