Friday, November 4th, 2022
As a country, Uganda has various laws which govern employment including The Employment Act 2006, The Employment Regulations 2006, The Labour Dispute Arbitration and Settlement Act, The Labour Unions Act, The Occupational Safety and Health Act 2006, Workers Compensation Act Cap 225, The Employment (Recruitment of Migrant Workers) Regulations, 2005 among others. These laws govern various aspects of labourers and employers including their rights, working conditions, dispute resolutions, dos and do nots among others.
The current law which governs individual employment relations is 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.
At the end of the day, the true value proposition for education is employment.Sebastian Thrun
The Parliament of Uganda has recently tabled a private member’s Bill the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2022 mainly seeking to address some defects in the current Employment law addressing casual laborers/employees, domestic workers, migrant workers, breastfeeding mothers, sexual harassment in employment and severance allowance among others
Sexual Harassment in Employment
Whereas the current law only defines what constitutes sexual harassment, the procedure for a complaint in case of sexual harassment at work and limits the requirement for sexual harassment procedures to employers with more than twenty-five employees, the Bill further proposes prohibition of mistreatment, harassment and violence at the workplace. In addition, to define what constitutes mistreatment, harassment and violence at the workplace, under the Bill, it is mandatory for all employers to put in place measures to prevent sexual harassment and it is an offense for any person who does not comply with this provision.
Employment of Children
The Employment Act allows the employment of children below the age of fourteen in light work under the supervision of an adult. The Bill increases this age limit for light work to sixteen years to protect children from exploitation and child labor.
Protection of Employees
The Bill further proposes an expansion of the definitions of contract of service and employee to cater for casual and domestic work while prohibiting employers from retaining or withholding original personal or professional documents of an employee.
The Bill protects special categories of employees including persons with disabilities, domestic workers and casual laborers by granting the Minister authority to prescribe a complaint handling mechanism to govern the employment of this category of workers who need special protection.
The Bill proposes that any form of casual employment exceeding four months be converted to a term of employment thus entitling the casual laborer to a written contract and all rights and benefits enjoyed by employees.
In respect to migrant workers, the Bill provides for specific obligations for employers of migrant workers while creating an offense for non-compliance. The Bill further defines what a recruitment agency is, the obligations such as the orientation of workers, keeping records ensuring that the workers’ contracts are in compliance with employment laws among others, the minimum employment standard requirements of the agencies, and clarifies who is eligible to be licensed to engage in recruitment and placement of migrant workers.
The Employment Act currently provides that on termination of an employment contract, repatriation allowance should be given to employees who worked one hundred kilometers away from their homes, and automatic repatriation allowance for employees that have worked with the employer for more than ten years. The Bill reduces the distance to fifty kilometers and five years for automatic repatriation allowance in case of termination of an employee.
Previously, the Employment Act left a gap in the calculation of severance allowance leaving it to be arrived at by negotiations between the employer and employer. The Industrial Court in various complaints established a formula for the calculation of severance allowance which had become the practice. The Bill has addressed this lacuna by explicitly providing for the formula for calculating this allowance.
The Employment Act currently provides for maternity leave in respect of the protection of female employees, the Bill strives to further protect new and breastfeeding mothers by providing for thirty-minute breastfeeding breaks daily in every two hours or a reduction in the contractual hours for an additional sixty days to allow her to breastfeed her child. The employer is also obliged to establish a lactation place at work to allow breastfeeding mothers to breastfeed their children during these breaks.
The Bill introduces a new provision on outsourcing of services requiring contracts with a third party to make sure that the contracts of the employees of the third party are in compliance with the employment law before engaging their services.
The Bill categorizes domestic workers as employees. This means that every single person in Uganda who employs a person including housemaids, nannies, shamba-boys, gardeners, drivers, etc. should have to sign a contract of service with each one of them entailing their scope of work, pay, leave, rights among others in addition to payment of the statutory contributions of their employees.
This implication is that in addition to looking for and saving money to pay basic household bills, necessities, school fees, etc. any person in Uganda employing a domestic worker whether temporarily or not would have to put aside money earned from their business if any, salaries, etc. to pay for their domestic workers’ contributions like NSSF, PAYE and terminal benefits among others. This is quite expensive for an average Ugandan household to do.
Further, the Bill is not mindful of the fact that there are very many people in towns and in villages all over Uganda with persons helping them with different kinds of domestic work at home and not all of these “employers” are salaried workers. Most of these people are earning daily and the relationship with their domestic workers is of payment in kind e.g. food, and rent.
Domestic worker relationships in Uganda is mostly informal, flexible, simple, and reciprocal. In addition, many people doing domestic work do not want to be confined to one employer thereby working for multiple people in a day or week. A question then arises on the practicability in such circumstances, would the domestic worker “employee” be under a contract of service for all their multiple employers, and whether each of them would be paying for that single worker NSSF contribution, payee, terminal benefits, and severance allowance amongst others.
The issue of domestic workers should be left to be handled on a case-by-case basis without this blanket regulation thereby allowing those that wish to be under contracts of service to do while those that desire informal arrangements to opt for them.
In Uganda, most casual workers work temporarily, hourly, or daily to make ends meet and some casual workers work in more than one place of work.
The challenge will then set in for casual workers engaged with more than one employer continuously for the four months. What will happen when both contracts become permanent after continuous engagement? Automatically making these workers whose aim is to work in a temporary setting clearly restricted on their freedom.
Some jobs are seasonal e.g. for harvest or planting times. The idea that an employee is going to cease being a casual worker with employment benefits is impracticable since this kind of arrangement calls for work only during a particular season. During the other periods, the casual worker is most probably working with another employer.
Outsourcing of Services
The proposition by the Bill is broad and difficult to implement. Services is such a wide scope including food services at work, for functions, labor services for work or functions, independent contractors goes against the laws of confidentiality of contract. The requirement of due diligence on every single employee’s contract of a third-party one is outsourcing is impractical since it is the duty of the employer to make sure that their employees have valid contracts of service when recruiting them.
The Bill seeks to prevent the exploitation and abuse of various categories of employees as seen above by addressing lacunas that previously existed thus ensuring that Employment laws are up to date with international labor laws and standards.
The Bill is a welcome move by the Parliament to protect these categories of workers. However, it broadly addresses most of the aspects such as the regulation of domestic and casual workers in a blanket manner that is quite impracticable in the local circumstances. There is a need to make the law more open to allow employers and employees with the option to be regulated by this Act or special arrangements between them.
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