A central tenet, though not fully operational in Uganda, is the right to unionize and collectively bargain. This includes the option of industrial action to increase members’ wages and improve working conditions. Labor rights are in context universal and apply to immigrant workers as well.
Among the key labor laws in Uganda are, the Workers Compensation Act 2000, the Minimum Wages Act 2000, the Employment Act 2006, the Labor Union Arbitration and Settlement Act 2006 and the Occupational Safety Act 2006. Some, like the Minimum Wages Act 2000, though entrenched in law are however hardly enforced.
The Employment Act 2006, outlines the conditions of employment including, contract of service, termination of contract, termination notices, and protection of wages, hours of work, rest and holidays, employment of women, employment of children and care of employees.
Likewise, the Workers Compensation Act 2000 entitles employees to automatic compensation for any personal injury from an accident arising out and in the course of his employment even if the injury results from the employee’s negligence. The Act further details that, for an injury that leads to death, the compensation should be equivalent to an employer’s monthly pay multiplied by 60 months.
From a global scope, labor rights are viewed as a core component of the modern corpus of human rights as captured in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Uganda is bound. The article, stipulates that, “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment; everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work;
The article further states that, “Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection; and that, everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests”.
In addition, Article 24 of the Universal Declaration likewise advocates that, “everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay”.
From a practical trajectory, the existing regulatory policy in Uganda- an eight-hour work day and a 40-hour work week- with extra hour’s payable as overtime, remains one of the prime products of labor movement campaigns.
Apart from general work related foci, labor rights also involve advocacy against child labor. In Uganda as elsewhere, child labor is viewed as exploitative and cruel, and often and deprives children the right to education. A report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that in 1998, 44.4 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 14 in Uganda were already working.
One such group is the Elimination of Child Labor Trust Uganda (ECLATU), a private sector sponsored initiative to stamp out child labor in tobacco growing areas. The ILO leads the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor (ILO-IPEC).
More recently, advocacy groups on workers’ rights have comprehensively engaged on the conditions of women workers and helped formulate gender based policies and affirmative action programs. Their efforts have not only created greater visibility for women’s issues but also the attainment of a minimum representation of 1/3 of women in Parliament.
Sustained efforts by groups such as the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) have also generated common advocacy positions and impacted positively on the Domestic Relations Bill; the Land Policy; the Labor Rights of Women; and the Constitutional Amendment Bill and resulted in the enactment of Gender sensitive labor laws and labor rights of women, including sixty days maternity leave, four days of paternity leave and the recognition of sexual harassment, among other benefits in the Employment Act 2006.
Though legal statutes appear well in place, challenges in implementation variously arise especially due to the lack of a cohesive trade union movement.