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EPRC commences study on labour market institution

Workers in a factory

Workers in a factory

Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) has commenced a three-year study to assess the effectiveness of labour-related laws and organisations such as trade unions in supporting Ugandan workers.

The study, under the African Policy Dialogue (APD) Include Platform, is expected to generate evidence that can be used by responsible agencies such as the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the Judiciary, and ministry of Public Service, among others to improve protection of workers’ rights, employment benefits and dispute resolution.

Dr Sarah Ssewanyana, the EPRC executive director, said of the study: “Uganda’s high population growth and an upsurge in life expectancy has accelerated the demand to access to decent jobs and mounted pressure on the country’s education sector and social protection.”

She added: “Given the large informal sector, workers face challenges in practising their labour rights, leading many employers and workers to use loopholes in business and labour regulations, often due to a lack of awareness or incentives.

“Moreover, the dominance of informal enterprises complicates the application of collective bargaining. As such, Uganda’s collective bargaining agreements cover only 15 percent of employees.”

Ssewanyana said “enforcement and harmonisation across these legislations, and regular reviews remain binding constraints.”

The June 2024 World Bank Economic Update for Uganda noted that “due to persistent underspending on education, health, and social protection, the productivity of Uganda’s next generation of workers is projected to be among the lowest in the world”

Dr Madina Guloba, senior research fellow at EPRC, said their study will analyse policy implementation, addressing issues around labour market active policies, minimum wage, employment protection, and unemployment insurance.

She said they will also look at collective organizations’ contributions. These include labour unions, civil society organisations, and private sector players or associations.

“If this is put together, the governance with these institutions and their interplay together, it means [we can know what is holding our productivity down] and it will go up in the long run,” Guloba said, adding, “We have signed these protocols, but we are not committing [to do so] what is on paper for the rights of workers.

The World Bank’s assessment has been soberly clear, noting that human capital—the knowledge, skills, and physical health enable people to be productive. However, institutions to cushion them at work must be well organized for people to push their productivity further.

Uganda’s population “is projected to increase by 60 per cent in the next 20 years, yet due to chronic investment in human capital a child born in Uganda today will grow up to be only about 38 per cent as productive as she would have been had she received a complete education and full health”, the World Bank said.

Commenting about the EPRC study, Aggrey David Kibenge, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Gender said this was a welcome initiative and that it would support some of the discussions already ongoing to improve workers’ protections in Uganda. He said that discussions for introducing the minimum wage are already underway in cabinet.

The PS, however, noted that before talking of decent work, Ugandans need to first access jobs locally and then decent work components of workers’ rights, social dialogue and protection can follow.

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