By Faith Muiruri, journalist for the Women@Work Campaign partner African Woman and Child Feature Service.
The Uganda Workers Education Association (UWEA) has proposed far-reaching changes in the Employment Act that would significantly expand the scope of workers protected against sexual harassment at the workplace.
The proposals are contained in a Private Members Bill which outlines a wide array of amendments and could be adopted by Ugandan parliament in the coming days.
Importantly, the law embraces all workers and pays special attention to domestic workers who were previously excluded in the Act.
The proposed framework repeals Section 7(4) of the Act which states that an employer who employs more than twenty five employees is required to have in place measures to prevent sexual harassment occurring at their work place.
According to Flavia Amoding, a Program Officer with UWEA, this is set to change. The proposed framework now covers one employee in a domestic set-up.
“Employees in small companies can now heave a sigh of relief as organizations previously exempted by the law must now come up with measures to address sexual harassment targeted at workers.”
The initiative is part of a series of activities undertaken by the organization under the Women@Work Campaign.
Flavia Amoding, Program Officer at UWEA
Sexual harassment remains a key issue in the Ugandan cut flower sector with women being hard hit by the vice.
The Program Officer says that the proposed amendment therefore offers a major relief to scores of these workers who were excluded by the Act which only covered workers in companies with more than 25 employees.
“The Act only allowed companies with more than 25 workers to formulate anti-sexual harassment policies and put in place measures to stop sexual harassment at the work place.”
During the consultative meetings, UWEA lobbied for the reduction of the number of employees required by the law during the formulation of the anti-sexual harassment policy at the workplace. They brought to light the plight of these workers and successfully managed to bring them on board. The sexual harassment clause was changed to include one and above.
“These groups of employees face a lot of challenges and are vulnerable to sexual harassment.”
She says that “the cumulative effect of the amendments could help strengthen accountability and oversight mechanisms at the workplace.”
The Amendment is a big win for UWEA which has spearheaded efforts to stop sexual harassment at the workplace under the Women@Work Campaign.
UWEA has developed a model anti-sexual harassment policy and pushed for the reestablishment of the Uganda’s Industrial court in Uganda. Since 2013, the organization has been pushing for the creation of a sexual harassment policy by the Ministry of Labor to be adopted by key players including trade unions and other companies.
The Amendments to the Employment Act in Uganda has been under development over the last two years and is now nearing completion. Upon review by the Parliamentary Committee, the document will be tabled to Parliament for debate and approval, after which it will be officially adopted and disseminated throughout the country.
Amoding says that the proposals were developed through a participatory process led by the MP for workers. Input was received from a wide range of stakeholders including FIDA Uganda and Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA), all partners under the Women@Work Campaign.
Definition of worker
UWEA has also stepped up efforts to review the “definition of a worker” as outlined in the Employment Act.
“We want the informal worker to be considered in the Act. This worker may not have employer-employee relationship but we have bodies that regulate them, take them to court and prison.”
She is emphatic that all workers, including those in the informal economy, are all workers. “Most of these workers have to contend with poor working stations despite paying levies to the Kampala City Council Authority. When found in the streets, they are arrested, they lose their merchandise and the majority are currently languishing in jail.”
“As UWEA, we are still fighting to make sure these workers are brought on board. We have decided to write a letter and attach all documentary evidence showing the reasons why these workers have to be protected by law. In countries like Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia, this group of workers are unionized.”
In addition, UWEA is actively involved in research, education and advocacy to amplify the Women@Work Campaign. “We have been able to develop training modules currently being used in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.”