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State agency plans probe into abuse of workers

A wide-ranging inquiry into mistreatment of employees by investors is being considered as the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) plans to clamp-down on an increase in violation of workers’ rights.

Mayuge Sugar Factory in Busoga is set to become the first target of the EOC, whose chairperson, Sylvia Ntambi Muwemba, recently said that there is an urgent need to protect workers from unfair treatment and ‘corporate impunity’.

“We will institute an inquiry at Mayuge factory. We were made to understand that on top of having no leave and the harsh working conditions, anyone who suffers any kind of body injury was terminated instead of being compensated,” Muwemba said.

She cited the troubling case of a former worker who was given only Shs 20,000 and terminated after losing his hand in the line of duty at Mayuge sugar factory. Speaking at the launch of a report on Human Rights and Corporate Accountability in Uganda at Hotel Africana, Muwemba said that the EOC will expand its inquiry to ensure that corporations involved in human rights abuse are held accountable.

The report describes how Ugandans continue to suffer injustice and unfair treatment at the hands of investors. It highlights challenges of land grabbing and eviction without compensation. In August, more than 50,000 artisanal miners were evicted from the Kitumbi and Bukuya mining sites in Mubende by the soldiers and police after a protracted struggle to have their rights respected.

In the same period, over 130 families (1,000 people) in Chawente sub-county of Apac district were forcefully evicted from their customary land – reportedly to pave way for an investor.

Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa, the executive director, Legal Aid Service Providers Network (Laspnet) said that human rights defender, who take up cases of violations, are threatened, arrested, stigmatised and criminalised.

With support from Action Aid, Laspnet has studied this problem. Gerald Tushabe, Laspnet’s consultant and a lecturer at Makerere University, said that the report examines the issue of corporate accountability and the risks and challenges human rights defenders face.

“There is need for both the state and non-state actors to bridge the gap between upholding human rights and economic investments,” noted Tushabe.

He recommends an increase in knowledge and protection mechanisms, and a strengthening of legislative framework. Usher Owere, who heads the National Organisation of Trade Unions (Notu), gloomily speaks about the widespread abuse of workers’ rights.

“This is entirely due to the lack of administrators to handle it, the ministry of Gender and Labour is thin on the ground. They are supposed to do inspections,” said Owere.

Owere also told The Observer that Notu has recently taken measures to protect employees, especially in the areas of salary, welfare, working gear and the type of chemicals used in factories. He was, however, sceptical about the planned inquiry.

Jolly Kaguhangire, the executive director Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), said that there are labour laws which govern how employers should relate with their employees, but there is a supervision and monitoring gap.

“The ministry of labour doesn’t have the capacity to monitor employers because they are thin on ground and we as UIA also don’t have a direct law that empowers us to monitor employers,” said Kaguhangire.

She was however quick to note that some agencies, mostly private ones, have been keeping an eye on the issue.

“The cabinet created a committee, [on which UIA sits], to look into employee issues. They are starting with the minimum wage and they will move on to other issues,” said Kaguhangire.

pbaike@yahoo.com

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