Dear President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni,
I, on behalf of your toiling workers at the once-mighty Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC), salute your efforts to ensure that our station, which dates back to 1954, does not close down during your tenure.
I am assured The Observer is one of the newspapers you avidly read; so, I am taking advantage as a loyal cadre.
Proof of your concern for UBC is evident in the teams of experts you have deployed in what is dubbed ‘revamp’. These teams followed the Shs 18 or 20 billion set aside to facilitate this noble venture.
This windfall has been seen in some equipment and the engagement of experts, but it has not trickled down to us, the labourers. I hasten to add that whereas your toiling UBC workers have not elected me to represent them on this very delicate matter, I am almost certain none of them will disassociate from what I now narrate.
About three years ago when we, your workers, began praying for your direct intervention, we were confident any relief you sent would impact directly on our lives in addition to the station we serve.
Our focus was not on handouts from our employer, but payment of accumulated dues on which our livelihood is hinged. One is gratuity and the other is NSSF. We have not received either for about a decade, and our NSSF records show no remittances – although the five per cent deductions on our salaries never fail.
Let it go on record that non-payment of gratuity and NSSF did not begin with the present management, but dates back to over ten years. However, at every change of regime at UBC, workers always hoped these issues would be taken as priority, but have been proved to be very near-sighted.
On March 22, 2018, NSSF courteously called to inform me that since I was going to be 55 the following day, I could pick my savings any time I wished. As I licked my lips in anticipation, the caller confirmed a devastating rumour I had been hearing – that my employer had not been remitting NSSF dues for a very, very long time.
In the last seven years, my NSSF remittances from UBC only show September to November 2014! As for gratuity, well, nothing!
When UBC workers were asked to compute their gratuity arrears last year, they did so with relish and gusto, and very few wondered why the administration seemed unaware of its financial obligations to staff. When the suffering toilers were offered three-month-long contracts, goodwill prevailed over reason.
We not only signed but even took oath, holy books in our hands in solemn self-immolation. When these tiny contracts were renewed for the same length of time, an experienced auditor noted it would have been better for UBC to sign Local Purchase Orders with individual workers for that duration!
Lest I forget, it was at this time our bosses saw it fit to bring in an expert to teach us the value of making wills – prompting a young news anchor (a Roman Catholic) to wonder whether the lecture was not designed as the ‘Sacrament of Extreme Unction’ administered to Catholics about to die.
There was no clapping when the expert promised to come back for more lectures, and I notice he has never returned. In subsequent official interactions with our employers, we soon discovered it was unwise to raise the issues of gratuity and NSSF.
The subject took on a guerilla aura, to be secretly mulled over by unhappy staff as a treasonous project. When ministry officials later lamely promised that “gratuity would be discussed”, we confirmed that what passes as a fundamental worker’s right elsewhere had become a remote possibility at UBC.
Your Excellency, I will pass over many other things that have happened here since you extended the relief, simply because they are way above my pay-grade. But I will state that if you came here and stood in LC-I elections as chairman of our ‘Radio Uganda village’, you would be trounced thoroughly!
You know LC-I is the most important local council. We would not vote you because you, apparently, did not direct that the Shs 18 or 20 billion you sent includes paying what your faithful toilers are owed by UBC.
Too late? No, but Ugandan money never waits and the possibility that UBC workers would vote you as LC-I chairman ‘Radio Uganda village’ depends on two magic words: GRATUITY and NSSF.
The author works with Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.