The Employment in Uganda is governed by a various set of laws including; the 1995 Constitution, the Labour Unions Act, the Migrant Workers Act and the Employment Act 2006. This Act was enacted to revise and consolidate the laws governing individual employment relationships, and to provide for other connected matters. In 2022, a proposed Bill was tabled to try and iron out the rights of different types of employees. The emphasis is put on some defects in the current Employment law relating to casual laborers/employees, domestic workers, migrant workers, breastfeeding mothers, sexual harassment in employment and severance allowance among others.
Highlights of the Act
- Casual labourers
In Uganda, most casual workers work temporarily, hourly, or daily to make ends meet. The employment Act 2006 is considered lacking in substantive provisions to support the enforcement of the regulations on casual employment. The practitioners and enforcers of the law on casual labourers have found challenges and difficulties in remedying the legal defect where the regulations are creating principal provisions which are not in the Act resulting into exploitation of the labour force depriving such workers of the rights as employees. This is especially identified when many casual workers work in more than one place of work. Take for instance a casual labourer has two work contracts in different place say seasonally, it is impractical to not be able to enjoy employee benefits yet they all have beneficiaries to the income received.
- Domestic workers.
The bill argues that the employment act 2006 has a very narrow scope on the regulation of domestic work, domestic workers, employers of domestic workers and recruitment and placement of domestic workers whose employment exclude the need for a no permit. Domestic workers in this case include housemaids, nannies, shamba-boys, gardeners, drivers, among others. Initially a permit is required for a person or company to recruit and place in a worker but for domestic work. However, majority of the women and young person’s working as domestic workers have a limited applicability of the law on domestic workers. The bill seeks to categorize domestic workers as employees thus entitled to employment benefits such as; contract of services, leave, pay, NSSF, PAYE, terminal benefits etc.
- Breastfeeding mothers.
The bill points out the element of protection of breastfeeding mothers as still lacking. The employment Act 2006 under Section 56 only provides for matemity leave, job protection and nondiscrimination leaving out other key elements in maternity protection such as breastfeeding breaks and breastfeeding facilities which are key to the health of both infants and mothers as documented by the World Health Organisation. Therefore, the Bill demands that the employer be obliged to establish a lactation place at work to allow breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed their children with a provision for thirty-minute breastfeeding breaks daily in every two hours or a reduction in the contractual hours for an additional sixty days to allow a mother to breastfeed her child.
- Sexual Harassment.
Despite the fact that the current law defines what constitutes sexual harassment and the procedure for a complaint in case of sexual harassment at work, it limits the requirement for sexual harassment procedures to employers to be of more than twenty-five employees. The Bill thus proposes prohibition of mistreatment, harassment and violence at the workplace as mandatory for all employers to put in place measures to prevent sexual harassment and make it an offense for any person who does not comply with this provision.
- Migrant workers.
The current law shows no provisions regulating the employment of migrant workers in Uganda resulting into exploitation of migrant workers and abuse of their rights including the right to collective bargaining. Therefore, the Bill defines principle provisions on the recruitment and placement of Ugandan migrant workers for work abroad by defining what a recruitment agency is and its underlying obligations.
- Severance allowance.
The Employment Act 2006 lacks the explicit formula for the calculation of the severance allowance. The Bill has addressed this loophole by explicitly providing for the formula for calculating this allowance.
Whether the Employment Amendment Bill 2022 is Practical?
On the face of it, the Bill seems logical and rational because it adds value and promotes the rights of employees in different categories making it plausible. However, looking at domestic workers having the said employee rights and benefits as any other employee is a bit of an overstretch basing on Uganda’s economic status. It is important to note that not all employers of domestic workers are employed or have a clear structure of employment therefore to subject such ‘employers’ to provide such benefits to domestic workers is nearly impossible. Domestic worker relationships in Uganda is mostly informal, flexible, simple, and reciprocal and thus should be left to be handled and negotiated on a case to case basic between the employer and the domestic worker without this irrational regulation.
The Bill seeks to address long-standing loopholes in the substantive Act that affect fewer formal employees (like domestic workers, casual employees, migrant workers, and breastfeeding mothers) that have been avenues of exploitation and abuse. The question remains as to whether all the proposed amendments are practical and of good impact.