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Unions campaign for recognition at Chinese-owned textile and garment factories in Uganda

14 October, 2021After recruiting and organizing most of the workers in the Chinese-owned textile and garment factories in Mbalala Mukono, the Uganda Textile Garment Leather and Allied Workers Union (UTGLAWU) is shocked by the continued refusal by the employers to recognize the union, in violation of Uganda labour law.

The factory owners refuse to sign recognition agreements for purposes of collective bargaining as required by the law when a union organizes more than 50 per cent of workers in a factory. According to the IndustriALL Global Union National Coordinating Council of Uganda (INCCU), made up of IndustriALL affiliates in the country, the factories, which include Bode, Euro Vision, Fine Spinners, Jinguo, Sunbelt Textile Company, Tonyong, Unistar, and Wilima are ignoring letters from the Ministry of Gender, Labour, and Social Development instructing them to recognize UTGLAWU.

To push for recognition, the unions are conducting joint campaigns under the East Africa Union Building Project which is supported by the Danish Trade Union Development Agency (DTDA) and the Norwegian Society of Graduate Technical and Scientific Professionals (TEKNA). The unions met with the labour ministry on 30 September to demand that the government enforces the labour regulations and for the Industrial Court to speed up the cases. Further, they are planning to meet with the Minister of State for Labour, Charles Okello Engola.

“We appreciate government efforts in coming out boldly to order the employers to recognize the union. Despite the challenges of Covid-19, the number of employers retrenching workers without informing the Ministry of Labour is increasing, yet they are getting stimulus packages from the government. Other employers are frustrating union efforts to collect dues from its members.

“However, we are calling upon the government to organize a meeting with non-complying Chinese employers - some of whom claim not to understand English - to give them a chance to respond to our demands before we take court action. The employers must respect the union, and the fundamental and constitutional rights of the workers,” wrote the unions in a statement.

Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa says:

“Textile and garment factory owners in Uganda must recognize national and international labour standards by recognizing the union, and we support the campaign by Ugandan unions for the respect of trade union and workers’ rights.”

Unions that are participating in the campaign in support of UTGLAWU are the Uganda Printers, Paper, Polyfibre, and Allied Workers Union (UPPAWU), Uganda Chemical, Petroleum, and Allied Workers Union (UCPAWU), National Union of Clerical Commercial Professional and Technical Employees (NUCCPTE), and Uganda Hotel, Tourism, Supermarket and Allied Workers Union (HTS-U).

Currently the garment industry is dominated by small to medium scale enterprises. According to the country’s National Development Plan III, Uganda aims to increase cotton production, domestic value addition, and to create over 50,000 new jobs along the cotton to clothes value chain.