Minimum wage will protect workers from exploitative investors – Activists

Women activists and trade unionists have embarked on a campaign to cause for the enactment of a law on minimum wage.

The government is indifferent to efforts to enact a law on minimum wage for fear that it would scare away investors and thus slow the country’s economic development.

The current legal provision is a 1984 law that set minimum wage at Shs 6,000 which according to the activists is no longer feasible nor practical.

“A minimum wage figure of Shs 6,000 is unpractical, many of the issues related to domestic violence are due to poverty which mostly affects women. Because of poverty, children will drop out of school, there will be no food at home, it will limit access to health services all of which impact on the women because if there is little exchange of income, it will mean little or no development,” said Grace Mukwaya, the executive director of Platform for Labour Action.

She was speaking at a dialogue on whether Uganda is ready for the conversation on minimum wage organized by Akina Mama wa Afrika.

Participants at the dialogue

In 2013, Workers’ MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara successfully sought leave of Parliament to table the Minimum Wage Bill 2013 a Private Member’s bill on grounds that the existing legislation facilitates the exploitation of workers. Government later tabled the Minimum Wage Bill 2015 which has for three years now remained on shelves.

“Government hasn’t shown real will to enact the Minimum wage Bill which means that people are going to remain poor. The existing Minimum Wage is meaningless especially when you compare the salaries with the housing and generally the cost of living,” said former Workers MP Teopista Ssentongo who is also the chairperson of the National Union of the Cooperative Movement and Allied Workers.

A study by Anita Ntale, a research analyst at Makerere University’s Economic Policy and Research Centre put the median monthly wage for a Ugandan worker at Shs 168,000 with only 30 percent of the employed Ugandans having written contracts.

A survey conducted by Platform for Labour Action shows that most unskilled workers do not earn enough to afford all their basic needs such education for their children, adequate food, health services and adequate clothing. For instance, the survey states, at less than Shs 4000 a day, most of the unskilled laborers can barely be expected to support themselves, let alone their families.

“One of the most common arguments that pro proponents have made in favor of fixing a minimum wage is the need to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. Most if not all of the flower farm owners make billions of dollars yet the workers earn less than 2USD hence the Minimum Wage Bill reduce income inequality,” Ntale said.

In the new campaign, Mukwaya said, activists should champion for the need for a legislation on minimum wage as a tool to development.

“The kind of investors we are attracting should be for economic growth not exploitation of workers, the purpose of investment is wasted if it is about exploitation, we want to have investors that will improve the status of the economy. We want to be a middle-income status economy but we will not get there if workers are exploited because this keeps them in poverty,” Mukwaya said.