Labour Day: In a court where wolves are the judges, goats have no rights

(Last Updated On: 30 April 2023)

Kampala, April 30, 2023: May Day, also called Workers’ Day or International Workers’ Day, a day commemorating the historic struggles and gains made by workers and the labour movement, observed in many countries on May 1.

In 1889 an international federation of socialist groups and trade unions designated May 1 as a day in support of workers, in commemoration of the Haymarket Riot in Chicago (1886).

Five years later, U.S. President Grover Cleveland, uneasy with the socialist origins of Workers’ Day, signed legislation to make Labour Day in honour of workers.

In Europe, May 1 was historically associated with rural pagan festivals (see May Day), but the original meaning of the day was gradually replaced by the modern association with the labour movement. In the Soviet Union, leaders embraced the new holiday, believing it would encourage workers in Europe and the United States to unite against capitalism.

The day became a significant holiday in the Soviet Union and the Eastern-bloc countries, with high-profile parades, including one in Moscow’s Red Square presided over by the top government and Communist Party functionaries, celebrating the worker and showcasing Soviet military might.

In Uganda, May Day is also celebrated, and this year is no exception as seen to defend workers’ rights. I cherish the ideologies of the celebrations but as a pietist of realism, I see us still a long way to go in defending the workers’ rights.

As we celebrate this day, let the government rise to the occasion and walk the talk other than mere chanting.

Is it true as Shakespeare’s Cassius said, that the fault lies not in the stars but in ourselves? Or, more particularly, in those who lead us? Most of us are content to believe that. And yet the truth is different.

How many workers are registered with the workers union? How many workers are registered and saving with the NSSF? How many workers are being battered by employers, especially the ‘investors? Shall our workers’ rights end with the VIP class and not the peasants? Is the law weak to bite and put things right?

The efforts by the government to recruit labour officers in various districts was a good move but little do they know that the cancer called corruption and bribery had eaten this sector to the marrow whereby the employers and the labour officers make the case to die a natural death and I speak this with evidence and experience. Hence, it seems wolves are taking care of goats

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should look into having more inspections in private factories, private hospitals and private schools. In fact, in private entities, it’s just a mess that the directors act as demigods who can hire and fire callously and no one brings them to book.

The existing laws seem too feeble to bite hard. Take an example of the existing minimum wage act of 1984 that gave sh6000 as the minimum monthly wage, this is now a serious joke that has resulted in a brain drain.

Though we have a national employment policy which resulted in the creation of an Industrial court, many workers are green about this especially and even the few who run there get justice after a long time.

As we all know that most workers work hand to mouth, who can really be in a position to wait for years to receive justice? Hence the adage becomes right; Justice delayed is justice denied

This has made our daughters and brothers go for modern-day slavery to the Middle East; a move I see very venomous for a growing country like ours that needs more skills and expertise in handling the affairs of this country.

I predict that if we continue not to settle the problem of brain drain, cronyism and nepotism once and for all, the future of this country shall continue to stand at crossroads.

The writer, Moses Wawah Onapa is a senior educationist and a social commentator


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