Uganda - Working conditions

Uganda's labor force is the sixth largest in sub-Saharan Africa, totaling 8.4 million workers in 1993. Yet, as 51 percent of the population is below the age of 14, it is difficult for a government with such limited revenue to provide sufficient education and vocational training for the mass of Uganda's youth. The majority of the nation's workforce is thus unskilled. However, in part by increasing public expenditure on education from 1.5 percent of GDP in 1990 to 2.6 percent in 1997, the government has been successful in attacking illiteracy. The 49 percent of the population over 15 years of age who were illiterate in 1985 had been reduced to 36 percent by 1997—9 percent better than the African average. The problem of an unskilled workforce has been accentuated by the AIDS pandemic. Because it is likely that a trained teacher or doctor will contract HIV, it is necessary to train 2 or even 3 people to ensure the supply of even one skilled employee.

Labor migration is very common in Uganda. Areas of high unemployment (in districts such as Kabale) were forcibly created by the British colonial administration in order to facilitate the movement of cheap labor from these districts to "industrial" districts such as Buganda and Ankole to work in mines, towns, factories, and plantations. While migratory labor had been relatively well paid before 1986 (people could save part of their wages to buy products such as bicycles and other "luxuries"), due to high inflation and the liberalization of the Uganda shilling imports are far more expensive and workers struggle to even feed their families. Workers are unable to return to their respective districts with basic tools to improve or buy their own land. Hence, there is a growing landless peasantry that is subject to a cycle of laboring simply in order to buy food and basic essentials.

Uganda's trade unions were given legal recognition by the British colonial administration in 1952. In 1993 the unionization of public services was legally permitted, which brought the number of trade unions in Uganda to 17. All unions are legally obliged to affiliate with the highly centralized National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) which is part of a tripartite negotiating structure involving the Federation of Ugandan Employers (FUE) and the Minister of Labor. Although the government supports workers' rights conventions promoted by the International Labor Organization (ILO), trade unions are ineffective in Uganda. This is in part due to a lack of unity amongst workers as they work 2 or 3 jobs, and are subject to ethnic, regional, and gender divides. Also, trade unions and other workers' movements have had their powers reduced by the government, and individual workers are often tied to large commercial farms by the provision of normally very poor accommodation, a small plot of land for subsistence, and low wages. Though meager, without these limited resources the worker is lost, hence the space for challenging employers is limited. In light of this situation, although the power of trade unions has been historically low in Uganda, it is no surprise that they are now a virtually non-existent lobby group.

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