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Minimum wage needed to push back exploitation in Uganda

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7 March, 2013In February 2013, the Ugandan government agreed to renew efforts to establish a minimum wage, after decades of immobility on the matter.

“The proposal for the 2013 Minimum Wage Bill has been received with a lot of support from trade unionists, members of parliament, civil society organizations and the public,” said Aneno Catherine, General Secretary of the Uganda Textile, Garment, Leather and Allied Workers Union (UTGLAWU), adding, “MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara was given a go ahead to draft the full bill for tabling in parliament.”

Uganda does already have legislation in place to establish a minimum wage, however the 1957 Minimum Wage Advisory Board Act, which would allow trade unions and other stakeholders to participate in setting the wage but this was never implemented. Uganda last set the monthly minimum wages in 1984, at 6,000 Ugandan Shillings (shs), an amount of USD2.26 today. 

The lack of established practice to set minimum wages in Uganda has left workers vulnerable to exploitation, where the high levels of unemployment force workers to accept pay well below what could be considered a decent wage.

 “Without minimum wage being instituted the workers of Uganda are being unfairly paid,” Said Vincent Ojiambo General Secretary Uganda Mines, Metal, Oil, Gas and Allied Workers Union (UMMOGAWU).

A minimum wage would take the investment incentive of labour exploitation through low wages off the table. It would increase the living standards of workers, reduce hardships faced by the working poor and provide a base from which labour can organize to improve upon in its struggle for a living wage. Yet efforts in the past to establish sectoral minimum wages that would ensure workers have the right to earn at least at these levels have not yielded results.    

“This issue has been on since the year 1995 when the Ugandan government appointed a committee to go around the country to get information from the workers of every sector in Uganda and finally came up with the figure of shs 120,000 (US$45) to be the minimum wage of Uganda,” explains Ojiambo. “When the figure was presented, the same committee was asked to come up with a revised figure. This led to a proposal of shs 75,000 (US$28). When the figure was presented to the cabinet it was further reduced to shs 53,000 (US$20), but the President did not endorse it. Up to now the issues of minimum wage has not been finalized.”