Finance Ministry denies its sabotaging minimum wage

Jul 21, 2016

Workers MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara accused the ministry of affecting the discourse to set a minimum wage

Jim Mugunga, the spokesperson at the finance ministry, took to defending the government entity Thursday, after several labour activists accused it of "sabotaging" plans to draw and implement a minimum wage in the country.

At least a dozen activists, who converged at the Silver Springs Hotel in Bugolobi, Kampala to participate in a minimum wage sensitization meeting, pointed a finger at the finance ministry for foiling plans to introduce the standard which would clarify the least an employer can pay their employee.

Usher Wilson Owere, the chairperson general of National Organisation of Trade Unions in Uganda, said because of their "micro economics", the finance ministry equated labour to "commodity" and this was a problem.

"They think that having a minimum wage automatically increases the cost of production which scares away investors; but the human resource is very important," he said.

Workers MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara accused the government entity led by Keith Muhakanizi of feeding the President (Yoweri Museveni) on "not exactly true" arguments and statistics, which also affected the discourse to set a minimum wage.

The MP behind the draft Minimum Wage Bill 2015 also criticized the finance ministry, especially its top echelon, as capitalists who "cared less" for the exploited majority Ugandans.

"Some of them (ministry officials) own these investments or have shares in them and don't want a minimum wage that will directly affect them," the MP said at the meeting sponsored by the German-powered Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

But ministry spokesperson Jim Mugunga played down the allegations and said "it was utterly untrue" that they were unbothered about the minimum pay for Ugandans.

"That is why Government set up a salary review commission to harmonize salaries in the country," he said. "And when the commission is ready with its findings, they (findings) shall be committed to the relevant authorities for action."

He described the particular attacks from the activists as "unfair and imbalanced".

Uganda faces a mind-boggling dilemma of creating equitable workplaces and environments for its employable population, with gross forms of labour violations and exploitations reported daily.

The challenge is compounded by high levels of unemployment and underage girls are made housemaids at minimal pay, with some reports indicating that they take home as low as 10 thousand after a month's work.

Then, there are the boys who work in hazardous stone quarries and in tea plantations and young women who work on farms and in bars and brothels.

The activists were particularly bitter that after Uganda was summoned to the Geneva labour violations court in 2014, it committed improving the picture and to putting in place a minimum wage by July 2015, but, apart from instituting a board, nothing had been done.

Lillian Mugerwa, a labour law expert and activist of the High Court, said the country needs to rethink its strategy and strike a balance between attracting investors and paying its citizens what it is worth.

She specifically criticized homesteads that pay "below pathetic" wages to their house helps and said the violation needed to stop.

Former investment authority boss Maggie Kigozi said the debate about minimum wage required deliberate care because "you are discussing it versus the unemployment conundrum in the country".

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