KEY NOTE ADDRESS BY BRO. FRANCIS ATWOLI, EBS, MBS, PRESIDENT OF OATUU & SECRETARY GENERAL OF CENTRAL ORGANIZATION OF TRADE UNIONS, COTU (K) DURING THE UGANDA LAW SOCIETY SEVENTH ANNUAL RULE OF LAW SYMPOSIUM
THEMED: LABOUR RIGHTS IN UGANDA:
MAKING DECENT WORK A REALITY
ON 3RD OCTOBER, 2014 AT THE GOLF COURSE HOTEL, KAMPALA
• The President of Uganda Law SocietySis. Ruth Sebatindira,
• The Secretary General National Organisation of Trade Unions of Uganda (NOTU) Bro. Peter Werikhe,
• The Chairman of National Organisation of Trade Unions of Uganda (NOTU) Bro. Usher Wilson Owere,
• The Chairperson Uganda Law Society Rule of Law Committee Dr. Christopher Mbazira,
• The Representative of Konrad Adenauer Stifting Rule of Law Programme for Sub-Saharan Africa,
• Invited Guest,
• Distinguished Members of the Uganda Law Society Present,
Brothers and Sisters,
• I want to thank you for choosing on me to speak to you today, and on behalf of the organizations that I lead right away from home in Kenya where I am the General Secretary of the Kenya Plantation and Agricultural Workers’ Union (KPAWU) that sponsored me to the Central Organization of Trade Unions in Kenya (COTU-K), an equivalent of the National Organization of Trade Unions in Uganda (NOTU) and after which my colleagues undisputedly have continually elected me three times as Spokesperson and Chair of the East African Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) under East African Community member states with an office in Arusha Tanzania.
• I also speak for the larger Trade Union Federation of Eastern Africa (TUFEA) representing fourteen (14) Eastern Africa countries now serving my second term and with an office in Khartoum Sudan.
• I want to thank my colleagues on the continent for the recent promotion as a sole spokesperson of workers in Africa under the banner of Organization of the African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) with an office in Accra Ghana.
• Further, I came as a member of the International trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Africa General Council based in Lome Togo and a long serving Vice President of the ITUC globally based in Brussels Belgium.
• These positions enable me to coordinate Africa and Asia at global level with an office in New Delhi, India.
• I am also the coordinator of the Global Industrial Relations Oversight Board (GIRO) based in Geneva Switzerland and lastly, I am serving my third term as a Titular member of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Governing Body.
Brothers and Sisters,
• The honour you have bestowed on me through this invitation to give a key note address during this auspicious Seventh Annual Rule of Law Symposium of the Uganda Law Society under the right theme of Labour Rights in Uganda: Making Decent Work Reality is humbling and in line with your mission to improve the professional standards of your members and to promote respect for Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Access to Justice through your over one thousand three hundred members.
• In addition I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Uganda Law Society for organizing this very timely symposium in order to exchange and share information and knowledge in the area of labour related issues.
The Rule of Law
• The most important application of the rule of law is the principle that governmental authority is legitimately exercised only in accordance with written, publicly disclosed laws adopted and enforced in accordance with established procedural steps that are referred to as due process.
The rule of law incorporates four principles namely:
1) The principle that power may not be exercised arbitrarily.
2) The principle of supremacy and independence of the law. This principle distinguishes the rule of law and requires acceptance of the principle of the separation of powers, for example independent judiciary system.
3) The principle that the law must apply to all persons equally, offering equal protection without discrimination.
4) The principle of respect for universal human rights as laid down in the instruments and conventions accepted by the international community as a whole.
• These principles are intended to be a safeguard against arbitrary governance, whether by a totalitarian leader or by mob rule. Thus, the rule of law is hostile both to dictatorship and to anarchy. Therefore even here in Uganda these principles should be applied the same without fear or favour.
• Let me talk briefly on Decent Work and Labour Legislation in East Africa.
The former ILO Director General Bro. Juan Somavia, in his address to the 87th International Labour Conference in 1999 defined decent work as ‘productive work in which rights are protected, which generates an adequate income with adequate social protection. It also means sufficient work in the sense that all should have access to income earning opportunities. It marks the high road to economic and social development, a road in which employment, income and social protection can be achieved without compromising workers’ rights and sound standards.’
Therefore the Decent Work Agenda comprises the following four pillars namely:
1) The Promotion of Standards and Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
2) The creation of employment, that is Decent work cannot be achieved without sustainable jobs. As such, employment creation is a central objective in the promotion of decent employment.
3) The enhancement of social protection: This objective seeks to protect workers from the vulnerabilities and contingencies at work whether these arise from unemployment, loss of livelihood, sickness or old age.
4) The strengthening of social dialogue: This is an ongoing process used to achieve conflict resolution, social equity and effective policy implementation. It is the means by which rights are defended, employment promoted and work secured.
• It is against this background that the ILO Project on strengthening labour relations in East Africa (SLAREA) was initiated in 2001 as one of the means to promote Decent Work in East Africa.
• The project was aimed at assisting the three East African Countries (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya) in their labour legislation review and to strengthen the mechanisms necessary for the effective functioning of trade relations.
• The project also aimed to promote the effective administration of the labour laws, conflict resolution, industrial relations, and Collective Bargaining in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
• Under the auspices of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at work, the project’s specific objectives were:
a) To bring labour laws in East Africa into conformity with the principles of Freedom of Associations and Collective Bargaining as set out in the ILO Conventions No 87 and 98.
b) To enable East African governments to perform more effectively their functions of prevention and settlement of labour disputes.
c) To strengthen workers organizations in their mandate to Organize and Bargain Collectively.
d) To enable employers’ organizations to perform more effectively their functions of Human Resource Management, conflict resolution and Collective Bargaining.
• All the tripartite partners participated during the implementation of this project and especially in the reviewing of the various labour laws in East Africa.
• Further, during the review of the labour laws in Kenya , Tanzania and Uganda lawyers were also heavily involved and have been playing a very important role in the reviewing and drafting of new labour laws and also making new Constitutions for instance the case of Kenya and more recently in Tanzania.
• We thank you very much and we do appreciate your contribution to the strengthening of labour relations and the rule of law in the East African countries.
Dear Members of the Uganda Law Society,
• East African lawyers have a moral duty to play in promoting the common good of the people of the region and the respective countries through targeted interventions on the issue of the public interest, particularly on the rule of law, democracy, respect for human rights and labour relations.
• Dear Participants
The main outputs of the SLAREA projects’ which I mentioned before were the reviewed and somehow harmonized labour laws in the three East African countries of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
• In Kenya, five Labour laws were enacted namely the Employment Act, Labour Institutions Act, Labour Relations Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act and Work Injury Benefits Act.
• The labour laws of Kenya of 2007 improved the environment for employers, employees and trade unions and are in line with the current challenges and demands of national development and international labour standards.
• Furthermore, Under Article 41 of the Kenya Bill of Rights of our National Constitution (2010), the Article ensures the rights to fair labour practices, fair remuneration, to join or form trade unions and employers’ organizations of your own choice and the right to strike.
• These rights can be related to several other Articles in the new Constitution. This shows that trade union rights are also basic human rights that is why COTU (K) as the organized labour movement worked very hard to make sure that workers’ rights were included in the new Constitution and are fully respected and enforced.
• Kenya and South Africa national constitutions are the only two constitutions in the world that give workers rights and access to Collective Bargaining otherwise in other countries Collective Bargaining and other employment contracts are only reflected in the national labour laws.
Trade Union Rights in Uganda
• Dear Participants, you are very much aware that in Uganda, the new labour laws included: Employment Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, Labour Unions Act and Labour Disputes (Arbitration and Settlement) Act of 2006.
• These new labour laws were meant to be in conformity with minimum labour standards as supported by the ILO Fundamental Declaration of Principles and Rights at Work, and the National Constitution of Uganda (1995).
• The new labour laws largely improved the right to trade union recognition, the right to register a trade union, the right to trade union affiliation and the right to trade union expansion in terms of organizing workers in the country.
• However, challenges still exist in terms of enforcing the rights and freedoms enshrined in the new labour laws.
• There is a big concern from the labour movement in Uganda that the government has sacrificed the rights of workers in favour of foreign investment and the liberal economy.
• In the hotel and textile industries particularly, it has been reported that, “workers are defenseless because the Government supports investors regardless of the way they treat workers”. Therefore investors make no effort to comply with existing laws and this is contrary to the Rule of Law.
• Although the labour law empowers the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development to protect workers’ rights, their invisibility in enforcement shows the constraints under which they operate regarding legislation and regulations.
• Furthermore, the Labour Union Act of 2006 guides the activities of trade unions. However, it is alleged that critical employment data are deliberately manipulated to conceal the agreements regarding workers’ rights, and workers are generally intimidated and threatened when trying to become members of the unions of their choice.
• Some employers facilitate the formation of company unions whose leadership is appointed by, and respond solely to management. When workers refuse to join such unions, they are usually reprimanded and eventually fired.
Brothers and Sisters,
• There is no Collective Bargaining for public-sector workers, including teachers, whose salaries are fixed by the government.
• In practice, the right to freedom of association is threatened which is contrary to the Uganda Labour legislation and ILO Conventions No 87 and 98 which the Government of Uganda has ratified.
It is unthinkable that in a democratic country like Uganda the national minimum wage has not been adjusted over 30 years.
• The minimum wage of UShs 6, 000.00(six thousand) per month was fixed in 1984 and has never been reviewed since then. Hence the lack of a minimum wage has also made it difficult for workers to negotiate better pay and good working conditions.
• The overall conclusion is that the new laws have not significantly improved the status quo in regard to protecting the rights of workers in Uganda.
• When we are talking about the implementation of rule of law, therefore more pressure should be exerted on the Government to make sure that the laws are enforced if the objectives upon which they were established are to be realized.
• Lastly I would like to end by saying that all workers, and in particular the disadvantaged poor workers, need representation, participation, and laws that work for their interests. It is not possible to talk about justice, without talking about rights.
• Trade Union rights are human rights. Therefore human rights must be protected by the rule of law and be made enforceable through public and private institutions such as legislation, judicial and administrative agency decisions, and Collectively Bargained Contracts between employers and representatives of their employees.
• You as lawyers have a critical role to play not only in the formulation of the legislation but more importantly in the monitoring and the implementation of labour laws.
• At the same time you have also to contribute towards building the capacity of trade union leaders and their organizations from them to make sure that the Rule of Law is applicable in Uganda.
• Once again I thank you for this opportunity and I wish you very fruitful deliberations.