New law to protect the rights of casual workers

Parliament has passed the Employment Amendment Bill 2022 that will see casual laborers who have served for six continuous months deemed to have a valid contract. Legislators, however, rejected the proposal that would have seen maternity leave increased from 60 to 90 days.
 The bill was passed on Wednesday, 24 May 2023 at a sitting chaired by Deputy Speaker, Thomas Tayebwa.

The drafters of the bill had proposed that if one hires a casual laborer for continuous 6 months, the employer should enter into a contract with the casual worker if he so wishes to redeploy him or her, and should provide employment benefits.

This according to workers’ representatives was devised to protect casual workers who they said are manipulated by employers, paying them less than the agreed-upon wages.
 “We have been fighting casualization to the level of the International Labour Organization; shall we fold our arms when our people are being mistreated? We are saying that if somebody has worked for you for six months and you still need him or her, employ them,” said Workers Representative, Hon. Charles Bakkabulindi.

Workers Member of Parliament, Hon. Margret Rwabushaija said that factories are now using third parties to hire casual labourers which she said leads to exploitation.
She added that casual labour is also prevalent among health workers and teachers saying that this calls for legislation to protect their rights.

The Minister of State for Industry, Hon. David Bahati said that the proposal to restrain one from employing a casual laborer for more than six months will cause challenges in implementation.
“This will push away some investment in terms of prediction that it will be costly,” Bahati said.

The Minister for Gender Labour and Social Development, Hon. Betty Amongi said employers are flouting the provision in the labor regulations, which require them to offer contracts to casual workers after four months of employment.
“Employers have been failing to comply and many workers have run to the Constitutional Court. The ruling of the court has been that this provision is inferior, that it is not provided under any law,” said Amongi.
The House also vetoed the provision to grant a mother who has given birth to more than one child, 90 days of maternity.

The Attorney General, Hon. Kiryowa Kiwanuka advised that 90 working days will discourage employers from having to pay wages to someone out of duty for that long.
“We should be mindful of the burden we are placing on the employer.  90 working days translate into 122 days off duty; you are telling the employer that this person will be out of work for a quarter of the year and that you have to continue paying them their full wage,” said Kiryowa Kiwanuka.

The provision for licensing of recruitment agencies was also a matter of contention as legislators observed that the law invests much power in the Minister in charge of Gender, Labour, and Social Development.

The bill provides that the minister shall provide for the procedure for obtaining a license, the governance and general operations of recruitment agencies, and the fees payable.

MPs said there is a need for a mechanism to control the minister from abusing such powers.
“This is an avenue for corruption; we have given the minister too much power.  There must be a stand-alone provision for appeal against the minister by the aggrieved party,” said Hon. Wilfred Niwagaba, the Shadow Attorney General. Dokolo District Woman MP, Hon. Cecilia Ogwal said that since ministers serve in a political office, it is unwise to accord them such powers saying they are likely to frustrate recruitment agencies and workers with dissenting political opinions.

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