By Cecilia Okoth and John Agaba
Government has moved to reduce the numbers of girls and boys who are sexually harassed and exploited in workplaces, under a new project dubbed Strengthening Safeguards, Safety and Health at Work places.
The project will also see labour officers patrol through various work stations throughout the country to monitor the state of workers in their workplaces.
This is aimed at improving the conditions of workers and ensuring their safety while at work.
Launching the project to Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), District Chair persons and Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) at Imperial Royale Hotel, Gender, Labour and Social development minister, Mary Karooro Okurut, pointed out that there is a lot of worker exploitation that needed to be checked.
“Our environment stinks and people are drowning in this stench,” she said, adding: “Workers' safety and health is not only a concern of workers and their families but also the economies of enterprises at both national and global levels.”
According to the 2006 Labour Market Information Status report, Uganda’s labour force is estimated at 9.8 million for persons aged 14 - 64 years.
Of these, 53% are female, 85% being in rural areas. Close to 77% of the labour force had either no education or just attained primary education.
Okurut said unsafe and unhealthy working environment tend to result in poor performance, absenteeism, accidents, death, damage to property and low productivity.
The project will be implemented in 50 pilot districts for five years. Other areas of focus will include oil and gas exploration and production, manufacturing, tourism, and construction cites.
Many RDC’s, LC5 chairpersons and CAO’s pointed out sexual harassment and lack of pay as the commonest form of worker exploitation.
Moroto district deputy RDC, Emily Akullu, said several workers her district worked long hours without pay and were expected to walk long hours to work.
“Some are paid as less as sh50, 000. And if they complain they are laid off,” she said.
Another RDC on condition of anonymity confessed that an Indian investor subjected one of his workers to be urinated on for over a month.
He said: “He is hated in the district but because we don’t have the power to chase him away he is still there.”
Responding to the issues raised, state minister for labour, Mwesigwa Rukutana said there was need to ensure that people are not exploited and paid a meaningful wage.
“While we castigate the investors for committing crimes we shouldn’t forget that Ugandans are also committing crimes. I have not heard of any investor sacrificing a child,” he said.
He called on the district leaders to cause law enforcement agents like the police to work “24-7 so that everyone exploiting another is apprehended. We have to sensitize everybody about people’s rights and everyone has to be responsible.”