The Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability (UCCA) commends the government for acting swiftly and putting in place measures and restrictions to respond to the global coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
These measures, whereas well intended, have nonetheless affected majority of Uganda’s working population in both the formal and informal sector.
Broadly, labour relations have become critical areas of concern that need government intervention to ensure more stringent protective measures for both the stressed companies and their workers.
It is now more critical that the government comes up with clear economic response plans to support stressed businesses and ensure employee retentions amidst the global pandemic.
Accordingly, the UCCA would like to reemphasize the government’s obligation to protect and to ensure that companies respect human rights including labour rights during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Specifically, the UCCA puts forward a number of key recommendation: The government should monitor and ensure respect for human rights especially labour rights amidst ongoing Covid-19 pandemic containment restrictions and measures; business enterprises’ internal measures undertaken during this pandemic must be legal as per Uganda’s labour rights policy and legislative frameworks.
The government should speed up economic response measures to support and stimulate businesses especially SMEs. This will ensure that key businesses remain afloat and can, in the interim, maintain their employees as the economic situation improves and businesses normalize.
Business enterprises should come up with internal measures that conform with the recently published ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development Guidelines, advancing respect for labour rights and enhancing social and economic protection of their employees.
It is important that the government is reminded of its core obligation to protect the human rights of all people and ensure that non- state actors including business enterprises respect human rights—especially labour rights.
The Ugandan Constitution enjoins the state to pursue social and economic objectives which fulfill the fundamental rights of all Ugandans to social justice and economic development. The government should monitor the effects and impact Covid-19 measures have on the business enterprises and their reactions and come up with an economic response to support and stimulate stressed businesses.
This will protect employees at the risk of losing employment and those whose employers are not in position to pay salaries during this time. In the interim, the state needs to put in place a clear economic strategy to enable some companies keep afloat and minimize workers lay-offs.
These may target SMEs by providing flexible lines of credit or giving tax breaks that enable them to at least continue running the business and paying salaries. In the interim, the state needs to put in place a clear economic strategy to enable some companies keep afloat and minimize workers lay-offs.
These may target SMEs by providing flexible lines of credit or giving tax breaks that enable them to at least continue running the business and paying salaries. Business enterprises should desist from termination of employees as this would occasion more costs in terminal benefits.
In compliance with Section 19 of the Employment Act, all employers should provide returns and statistics on the number of workers likely to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Any employee lay-offs should be in accordance with collective bargaining agreements or section 84 of the Employment Act as a temporary measure which should not break the continuity of service of employment. When it comes to compensation, many frontline workers of essential services may be exposed to various injuries and disease.
The Compensation Act provides for compensation for injuries suffered and scheduled diseases incurred in the course of and out of employment. All business enterprises should expand their medical coverage and offer treatment and compensation of all Covid-19-related injuries and disease.
Due to the ban on public transportation and limiting driving of private vehicles, companies in coordination with the Covid-19 response taskforce and other responsible agencies should organize ways of safely transporting their workers to and from work and in compliance with the ministry of Health guidelines and restrictions.
Already, there are reports of businesses closing due to the impact of Covid-19. Section 40(1) of the Employment Act is to the effect that every employer shall provide his or her employee with work in accordance with the contract of service.
However, Subsection 2 of Article 40 provides that that duty shall not apply if the contract is frustrated or its performance is suspended. Section 40 notwithstanding, it is imperative that businesses do not use the pandemic and the lockdown as a way to unlawfully terminate workers’ employment relations.
Employers and employees should negotiate ways of conduct in such hard terms and agree on a way forward that respects the labour rights of all workers.
The author is a coordinator, Uganda Consortium on Corporate Accountability.