Workers yet to benefit from unions
Mr Paul Oketch, 45, a worker at one of the sugar manufacturing factories, joined the labour union 10 years ago. Unions help members to enjoy benefits of employment such as fair treatment, better pay, working conditions and fair compesation.
But instead, he has suffered more like other workers who are not unionists. He says, the union leaders who would have helped to fight the exploitation of members, instead ‘connive’ with the employers to make their life harder while at work.
Mr Oketch says their plan to withdraw from the union, which even deducts three per cent of their monthly salary to facilitate its activities, have also been frustrated by both the employer and union leaders.
“We are between a rock and a hard place and our leaders are simply there to collect wealth yet ordinary workers are suffering,” he says. “I even find no justification of deducting three per cent from my meagre monthly salary to facilitate a union, which does not help me,” he adds.
All the unionised workers on sugar and tea plantations scribe to National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers of Uganda (NUPAW). But Mr Bruno Pajobo, the NUPAWU secretary general, says some union members speak ‘ill’ of their leaders because they were defeated in elections.
Mr Oketch’s case is one among the many victims as thousands of workers are silently being oppressed at work places but fail to speak out because of fear of losing their jobs.
Despite their failure to safeguard the rights of workers, union leaders are said to be corrupt, a vice which has affected the organisation’s operations which handles an estimated 300,000 civil servants and 11million private sector employees.
Consequently, this has led to splinter groups that are defeating the desired teamwork spirit.
The Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions (Coftu) broke off from National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) in the run up to the 2006 elections, following elections in NOTU in which workers Member of Parliament, Dr Sam Lyomoku and Mr Christopher Kahirita emerged losers.
But Dr Lyomoki , who is also Coftu general secretary says despite having internal bickering, the current labour movement leadership has tried to deem its image locally and internationally .
“As brothers of the same family, such misunderstands are inevitable but we believe in solidarity and it is through this that we have managed to achieve something,” he says.
He cites the enactment of the National Employment Policy, securing workers’ representation on the National Social Security Fund board, and improving awareness about workers’ rights as some of the achievements registered.
“I do not really think that there is any employer today who doesn’t know that mistreating workers is bad. We have done our part and what is lacking is taking action,” he says.