mardi, 22 janvier 2019

Ouganda : Informal sector workers, sheep without shepherd

They go to their work places every morning like the rest of the employed masses, doing their bit in their own capacities, working as traders, artisans, and domestic workers, among others. Despite contributing a healthy 10 per cent to the GDP according to the East African Development Bank, workers in the informal sector have little to show for their contribution towards the economy.

Besides poor pay, they are at the lowest level in the job food chain, working the most menial jobs, in the most difficult of conditions, often putting themselves directly in danger. Needless to say, their rights as humans, citizens and workers, are those most abused. They have no medical coverage, or protection against exploitation. No provision for social security. Still, they trudge on reporting to their duty stations, grateful to at least have a job at all, and not be one of the many unemployed. In turn, it allows employers to get away with the equivalent of labour law murder.

That they are in a sector without any centralised organisation means they suffer silently, or their grievances never reach the surface. “I am aware there are some laws, but then where I work, my employer is the law, and he can chase me anyday,” says Paul Mukasa, who manages an eatery next to the old park.

If his views are taken to represent the views of other disgruntled yet silent employees in the informal sector, then the prevailing order is to do as the employer says - if you want to keep your job, that is. With unemployment rates skyrocketing and stiff competition for what little available paid work there is, you cannot blame them.

Though their lives may not reflect it, informal workers are protected under the same 2006 employment act as everyone else, and should at least be able to enjoy basic workers’ rights.

According to Charles Ocici, an investment analyst, workers in the informal sector are like sheep without a shepherd. Vulnerable and scattered, he says their numbers can never mean strength, as they have no comprehensive support or platform. “Without formal contracts it is every man for himself,” he says.

Join the labour movement ?

The deputy secretary general of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu) Mr Oloka Mesilamu agrees. “They are more like self-employed,” he says. In Ocici’s opinion, helping the informal sector is a lost cause until there policy makers recognise the benefits in formaliseing the sector - such as broadening a tiny tax base.

Mr Arinaitwe Rwakajara, the workers representative in Parliament, says the only way to reach the worker in the informal sector is for them to officially join the labour movement. “They are represented ; the laws are made for all workers,” he says, likening those in the informal sector to spectators watching a game from the sidelines. “They need to participate if they hope to benefit,” he says.

Sounds easy enough, except it is not in the slightest. Not only is joining a trade union a grueling process but even those formally employed work for employers who do not allow it. As long as those employers remain ignorant or flaunt the labour laws, the worker in the informal sector will undoubtedly continue to suffer.

Mr Olaka concedes that it is indeed very difficult to organise workers in a trade union without reining in the employer. In the building and construction sector, there are many informal workers for example. He thinks the solution lies in organising them into associations, which are then affiliated with Notu. “They will help get minimum labour standards, compelling the employers to take health and safety measures,” he says, adding that associations can also act as platforms through which rates can be negotiated.

The Chairman General of Notu, Mr Usher Wilson Owere says unionizing workers depends on the sector. He gives an example of the transport sector - most of whose workers have joined the amalgamated transport industry workers union. As for the rest, reaching them is a work in progress. Owere explains, “Many of them are not aware of their rights. They go on taking exploitation as the normal order of things. We have to first bring them to this awareness that they can actually speak out and even go as far as taking errant or oppressive employers to court.”

He brings to light the fact that many of workers do not see some of these things as rights. Take, for instance, sick leave or being paid on time. The plan in action he says is to pass on the simplified labour laws to the workers and encourage them to form associations, and then train their leaders.

Another way out ?

While the organising under trade unions keeps coming up, not everyone thinks it is the solution. An industrial specialist who declined to be named expressed concerns about trade unions being championed as the be all and end all to addressing informal workers’ rights.

“They are bound to get hijacked by self-seeking individuals who will start using them to achieve their own ends. There is no way to prevent them from becoming politicised,” he says. The expert has another reservation ; that trade unions work for the organised sector. He challenges Rwakajara’s view that the unions are all inclusive and not necessarily for those in formal employment.

What would help the workers more then ? In his view, it is the provision for minimum wage in the employment act. “Having a law in place saying a waitress for example should not earn less than ‘X’ amount means everyone is aware of at least that right and it is directly beneficial to all workers,” he says, adding that it will help reduce on exploitation. Domestic workers are for instance one of the jobs often used to lure poorly paid Ugandan workers to foreign countries, where women can then be forced into sexual exploitation.

By Christine Wanjiru Wanjala

Source from

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