The low rate of unionization amongst workers in Uganda may be contributing to the low level of collective bargaining for minimum working wages in Uganda, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization.
An ILO World of Work report titled: “Developing with jobs,” presents an analysis of statistics on trade union membership in selected developing and emerging economies, showing union members as a percentage of employees and as a percentage of total employment.
Among the selected countries Uganda and Niger have the smallest number of employees belonging to unions. Workers’ unions are strong in Argentina, Armenia, Kenya, Romania and South Africa.
Other mentioned African countries with more unionized workers than Uganda include Egypt, Mauritius, Malawi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Lesotho.
The report notes that in the recent years there has been a decline of workers in unions; but highlights a need to focus on the influence trade unions can have over the workforce.
“These developments have a number of implications. First, the weakness or underdevelopment of employer and worker organizations may reduce the effectiveness of labour and social institutions as a whole.
Especially in the case of labour laws, effective enforcement requires awareness-raising, monitoring and other types of participation from employers and workers,” reads the report.
Also, if collective bargaining covers a small share of workers and majority workers lack alternative method to negotiate and determine their wages, then minimum wage setting may be the only option to influence wage outcomes.
Dr. Sam Lyomoki, the Member of Parliament representing workers blamed the low level of unionization on the breakdown of trade unions during the 1990s, the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programmes that led to retrenchment.
According to Lyomoki, there are 40 labour unions in Uganda under the two workers’ federations of NOTU and COFTU.
However, the 40 labour unions have a subscription of not more than 500,000 members, yet there is a potential membership of 10 million people.
“There is the thinking that in order to encourage investments, you need to have poorly paid workers with no strong bargaining power. But on the contrary, you need to have highly motivated workers with high productivity in order to attract investors,” said Lyomoki.
He said there are presently amended labour laws that favour workers to unionize. However, the problem is enforcement and workers are not sensitized about their rights to negotiate for better pay; while workers are also ready to take on poorly paying jobs.
Overall, the report notes that workers in developing countries are increasingly moving to better jobs and joining the middle class.
However, 839 million people representing a third of workers in developing countries earn less than US$2 per day.
The report notes that 1.5 billion people, representing more than half of all workers in the developing world work without contracts and social protection and often live in poverty.
Low Union numbers affecting minimum wage push in Uganda