KAMPALA – Happy Labour day but this might preciously be the worst labour day celebrated when workers are confined ,many have not been paid and yet many are in fear of losing their jobs. It is now a fact that global jobs and local jobs will be lost as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. In Uganda our Labour rights are below the ILO standards.
To me this day is full of emotions because 12years ago I choose to leave a well paying job at a top bank in Kampala and begin fighting for the rights of workers. In this top bank which was established on a Christian foundation my right of having a decent lunch break was violated.
It all started in a staff meeting where I pointed out a bank policy which was abused by managers by denying staff lunch break.The focus was not myself but I had colleagues who were in mature pregnancy stages but could not be allowed to rest by a senior manager.I had a case of a workmate in my former branch who had several miscourages due to heavy work load without rest. At the time the bank target was 250minimal transactions daily for a teller.Since top management gives managers high targets the managers transfer their stress to employees without considering their personal conditions and basic rights.
I choose to resign my position and pursue the path of being a human rights advocate and my focus was mainly on economic rights. With the little savings I ventured into tours and trave.l therefore came from a banker to a taxi driver but I had my peace.
Whenever I went to the same bank to transact I would see my former colleagues in a prison kind of setting and I decided I could do something for them. I decided to embark on a masters in Human Rights Law with the vision of using my profession to advocate for labour rights. Indeed after acquiring my masters I felt that one of the ways of achieving my goal was to go to parliament.
Unfortunately this did not work out because I anticipated that Nakawa constituency had a fair number of workers but they don’t come out to vote and they don’t participate in politics.
I did not give up my pursuit for workers rights and the only non violent windows I had left were the civil society and the academia. I made some studies and publications in the area of workers rights. Fortunately while doing my doctorate studies in South Africa, I studied a model of COSATU(Congress of South Africa Trade Union), which was a workers union and was also politically instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa.
Political observers think that ANC didn’t have much to offer in the bargain for the independence of South Africa but COSATU had the mine workers. By withdrawing all the mine workers the apartheid regime could not achieve much economic progress and hence had to give in to negotiations. The current President of South Africa Cyril Rhamaphosa was first a union(workers) leader. A lesson to Uganda is that the current leadership will not take labour rights e.g minimum wage a priority unless Labour organizations become political. The existing unions are not representative enough.The workers contribute more than 50 percent of the G.D.P yetthey are politically insignificant. The situation in other EAC countries is much better than Uganda.The biggest economic resistance the present regime ever had was when the medical workers strick .Medical workers and other unionized workers are not even 5 percentage of Ugandan Labour force.
Politics is a game of numbers therefore workers need to leverage their numbers to bargain for better pay and other employment benefits.
Rogers Barigayomwe PhD, is a workers rights activist.