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Trouble in hotel workers union

By Rukiya Makuma

Can crucial meeting this month end power struggle, intrigue?

September 24 could mark a turning point for one of the most active labour organisations in the country, the Uganda Hotel Food Tourism and Allied Workers’ Union (UHFTAW), which has been paralysed by leadership wrangles for nine months. In a show of force on that day, a splinter faction, led by former chairman, John Nuwagaaba and former Treasurer Richard Bigirwa has called a controversial delegates conference.

The conference has the backing of the Minister of State for Labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana, who says it is the perfect platform for forging reconciliation in the leadership.

But the defacto leaders of UHFTAW, Acting Chairman David Oguti and his powerful Secretary General Stephen Mugole have snubbed an invitation to attend from the minister and are mobilising their members not to attend.  If they succeed, they will have demonstrated their clout in the organisation, but if the conference goes ahead successfully without them, they will have fatally punctured their claim to the leadership of UHFTAW.

Among those watching the contest closely is Annet Namukasa, an employee of Sheraton Kampala Hotel.

“Each side claims there are the legal representatives of hotel workers, “she told The independent, “meanwhile we are suffering.”

Namukasa is anxious that although six of her colleagues at the hotel were laid off under suspect circumstance, there have not found a right forum to address their grievances.

Those sacked, according to Namukasa, belonged to the Oguti-Mugole faction, yet the Nuwagabe – Bigirwa sect holds the most influential positions in the Sheraton Hotel labour organisation.

Namukasa was one of the workers from the Sheraton who had attended another Special Delegates Conference on Aug. 25, when she spoke to The Independent. Called by the Oguti-Mugole faction at Emerald Hotel Kampala, it failed to resolve the wrangles.

“We now have to sit and wait till the wrangles are resolved,” she said ruefully.

So far it is unclear how Namukasa’s wish for an early resolution of the wrangles can come about.

Robert Wanjuche says the Oguti-Mugole faction has no right to stop people gathering lawfully on September 24. He says the Aug. 25 Delegates Conference the Oguti faction held was not representative of workers’ views because the members who attended “were just handpicked by someone who is desperate for power”.

The powerful Workers MP, Dr Sam Lyomoki, who is associated with the Nuwagaba-Bigirwa faction and is in favour of the Sept. 24 conference, says workers have a right to decide on who should represent them. He says the Oguti-Mugole faction was legally kicked out of at a UHFTAW Delegates Conference in April but is running to the media to vent frustration.

“If they know they are the rightful owners then there is no need for them to panic,” he says, “it is the workers to decide who they feel is representing them fairly or not.”

Lyomoki is not an honest broker, according to Mugole. He accuses Lyomoki of trying to throw him out of UHFTAW leadership by supporting a rival faction because he dared to stand against him for the Workers seat in parliament in the recently concluded general election. “Lyomoki is using his role as workers’ MP to try and get back at me,” he says and is fighting back.

In a letter dated June 28 to all employers who recognise the UHFTAW union, Mugole refers to Lyomoki as a known ambitious and cheap populist whose main objective is to pursue selfish, personal and political interests using workers and their organisations for his personal gains and who should not be taken serious at all.

But Bigirwa told The Independent that Mugole is fighting unjustified wars in the wrong forums after losing miserably when he contested against Lyomoki. He says Mugole was removed from the leadership but still wants to cling to power.

“Workers lost trust in them because they don’t represent their rights,” he says.

Leadership wrangles are not unusual in Uganda’s myriad labour organisations.

Lyomoki, is the General Secretary of the Central Organisation of Free Trade Union (COFTU) which he formed in 2006 after losing leadership elections in the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu). NOTU and COFTU are also still fighting over who should be the representative of all the unions in the country. Each group tries to get as many affiliate unions as possible.

Lyomoki has been accused of creating breakaway sections in unions that oppose him in the Uganda Medical workers Union, the Textile Union (Southern Range Nyanza), Kinyara Sugar works, Tilda plantation Union, and the National Union of Agriculture, Plantation and Allied Workers Union.

Lyomoki denies the allegations.

Usually, when a split happens, a new body is registered. The UHFTAW case is complicated because each side maintains they are the rightful leaders and continue to use that same name. Unless, that is resolved quickly, workers in the hotel industry will continue to suffer without a voice.

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