4 – Systematic violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index

Uganda

The ITUC affiliate in Uganda is the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU).

In practice

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Over 80 workers exposed to chemicals at the Dutch-owned flower farm21-10-2016

On 21 October, over 80 workers of the Dutch-owned flower farm Royal Van Zanten have been treated over various health complications following exposure to poisonous chemicals at one of the greenhouses in Wakiso. According to the Uganda Horticultural Industrial Services Provider and Allied Workers Union (UHISPAWU) and the Ugandan Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Uganda), on the morning of 21 October, the farm managers sent a group of approximately 40 workers to cut flowers in a greenhouse that was disinfected with pesticide two days before they were permitted to do so by safety procedures, which require a minimum waiting period of five days. Even though the first group of workers was showing symptoms of serious intoxication (convulsive vomiting, acute headache and abdominal pain, severe skin and eye irritation etc.), the management sent another group of workers to continue the work. Those workers developed the same symptoms. Although heavily intoxicated, none of the workers were taken to a hospital and instead they were treated at the in-house clinic and some of them received treatment in a nearby clinic. Workers were mainly given painkillers and were later discharged without medical forms. The costs of all the invoices have been covered by Royal Van Zanten. Four workers received Shs 40,000 (around US$10) each to cover further medical costs. After workers were taken to the hospital – an action organised by UHISPAWU and FIDA-Uganda – they tested positive for chemical poisoning. Several workers were still hospitalised a month later.

Although the management of the farm issued a statement in which it referred to the meetings that were taking place between the company, the employees and representatives of the Ministry of Labour, at the same time it denied responsibility for the incident. The management argued that it was the workers that did not follow safety instructions and who entered the greenhouse without observing the safety period. They also claimed that all the required medical procedures and tests have been provided to the workers and that the results returned negative for any permanent damage from the incident.

The Ministry of Trade took the side of the company and refused to hear any workers’ complaints. The Ministry further announced that it would handle the matter jointly with the Ministry of Labour “to ensure that Uganda does not lose the market for her flowers abroad”.

According to UHISPAWU, at Royal Van Zanten workers are paid between Shs 100,000 (US$27) to Shs 200,000 (US$54) per month. Although exposed to dangerous chemicals on a daily basis, they are not provided with any protective gear apart from rubber boots and aprons. Incidents of reckless exposure are not uncommon – a similar incident took place a year ago and another took place at a Royal van Zanten location in Mukono ten days after the Wakiso incident. The management responded in a similar manner by blaming workers for handling the chemicals “irresponsibly” and not following instructions.

Arrests of trade unionists are not uncommon19-05-2014

Arrests of trade unionists are not uncommon. Ezra Kanyana from the artists union and Basra Stephen from the horticulture unions have been arrested when they were demanding the introduction of a minimum wage. Demonstrations are often prohibited. For examples, on 1 May 2013 the leadership of the Central organization of Free Trade Unions (COFTU) and the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) were arrested during the May Day celebration when they were demanding a minimum wage. They were detained at Kampala Police Station for two days before being released on bail.

Collective agreement ignored, right to organise denied31-12-2010

The National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) reported in November that it had petitioned the Inspector General of Police, Major General Kale Kayihura, over the working conditions of private security guards. Over 35 private security firms are registered with the police, many of them employing over 250 guards. The guards complained that conditions set out in collective bargaining collective bargaining The process of negotiating mutually acceptable terms and conditions of employment as well as regulating industrial relations between one or more workers’ representatives, trade unions, or trade union centres on the one hand and an employer, a group of employers or one or more employers’ organisations on the other.

See collective bargaining agreement
agreements, including compensation for injuries and correct dismissal procedures, had not been respected. They also complained that in some cases employers deny security guards the right to join trade unions.

No collective bargaining in public sector31-12-2010

No public service unions, including medical staff and teachers, are able to negotiate their salaries and employment terms as these are fixed de facto by the government.

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