KAMPALA – Legislators on the Parliamentary Committee of Gender, Labour and Social Development want the proposed Labor Disputes (Arbitration and Settlement Amendment) Bill to empower employers and labour unions arbitrate over disputes between workers and employers in a bid to reduce the backlog at the Industrial Court.
The bill seeks to streamline composition of the Industrial Court to provide for powers of the court, terms of appointment of head judge, deputy head judge and other judges of the court similar to those of the judges of the high court. The industrial court is charged with ensuring labour standards and provides a platform settling labour disputes.
MPs who were meeting with Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) over the bill on Tuesday, January 4, 2020, said that majority of workers in Uganda are neither associated with labour unions nor have the power to approach the industrial court and that most risk losing their jobs once they challenge employers.
“You need to mind the power relations between employees and employers; think about rural workers in Buliisa district who might not have power to challenge their employers in court and are not part of labour unions in case of disputes,” said Hon Alex Ndeezi, the Committee chairperson.
MPs were also concerned that the non-existence of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms at workplaces is increasingly leading workers to resort to the Industrial court even on matters that would have been solved amicably.
The Federation of Uganda Employers said could be included in the bill providing for creation of committees at workplaces which would be charged with settling disputes amicably and saves workers the processes and costs associated with the court.
“We are saying that the amendment considers setting up comprehensive dispute resolution mechanisms at workplaces rather than waiting for the long court process,” said Dan Okanya, Head Policy and Research at Federation of Uganda Employers.
Hon Ndeezi said that this would require the law to ascertain the source of funding for such committees and their mandate.
The Buliisa Woman MP, Hon Norah Bigirwa said there is need to have district labour officers who would assist in settling disputes of a lesser magnitude and forward complicated ones to the court.
The committee also wants workers’ unions to provide credible workers’ representatives as members of the Industrial court saying that there have been cases of unqualified people representing workers.
“There are people camouflaging as employee representatives when they are not employees,. How do I speak on behalf of employees when I don’t understand their issues?” Bigirwa wondered.