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“Protect labourers from foreign investors”
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“Protect labourers from foreign investors”

May 1 is marked in many countries as Labour Day, a day to celebrate and advocate for working people. Badru Walusansa, 25, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Kampala in Uganda, looks at how the need for employment must be balanced with legislation that protects and compensates labourers.

Labour is an indispensable factor of production without which the production chain is incomplete. Uganda is one of the world’s countries with an excessive labour force, both skilled and semi skilled or casual.

Uganda’s National Development Plan envisages shifting surplus labour from agriculture to industries and services. Although this paradigm shift is significant in terms of diversifying peoples’ livelihoods and underpinning the country’s economic transformation, government should critically examine the plight of labourers, especially in foreign-owned industries.

Casual labourers in foreign-owned industries continue to experience harsh working conditions amidst a continued degree of negligence by government. In October 2016, about 80 workers at Royal Van Zanten flower farm in Wakiso District were poisoned following alleged exposure to harmful chemicals at their place of work. It’s regrettable how the safety of labour was compromised in that scenario. Cases of sexual violence, exploitation, poor pay and other work place hazards need to be dealt with in order to improve the working conditions of labourers.

We need to enforce existing national, regional and international legal and regulatory frameworks promoting the rights of labour. The government should also come up with sound policies in support of the same. For example, the Minimum Wage bill, if passed by Parliament, would address the issue of exploitation of labour. However, since then, passage of the bill has been stifled for the stated reason that it would create a reversal in employing local labour by the foreign investors. Much as our people need jobs from investors, improving their working conditions is equally important.

Absence and/or poor implementation of policies to improve working conditions of labour only gives leeway to further exploitation of workers, mainly by the foreign investors. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should conduct site visits to foreign-owned industries to establish the nature of working conditions for employees. I have come to realise the ministry has also not done enough to sensitize labour about where to lodge complaints in case of any grievances encountered at work. About three weeks ago, one female victim of sexual exploitation at work claimed to have been threatened by the perpetrator, a foreign investor, once she reported the case to police. What kind of impunity is this?

Trade unions should also step up to protect our labour force from the jaws of highly exploitative foreign investors who don’t mind at all the social welfare of Ugandans.

badruwalu@gmail.com

Photo credit: Marcelo Campi Amateur photographer A.F.E. Mechanic workshop P1 via photopin (license)
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About me: I am a coordinator for Hands Against Poverty-Uganda, an initiative I support as I aspire to influence more youths in Uganda to directly engage in poverty reduction programmes. I am active in human rights advocacy and elections management, after having been a voter educator at the Citizens Election Observers Network-Uganda.

I have a passion for writing and have authored several articles on different topics in the Weekly Observer newspaper, and contribute articles for the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative’s website.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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