Minimum Wage Bill wins legislators’ hearts on first day of debate

Parliament yesterday started debate on the Minimum Wage Bill which received overwhelming support of legislators from across the political divide. The private member’s Bill, which was drafted by Workers’ MP Arinaitwe Rwakajara, makes it mandatory for a minimum wage to be set for employees in both the public and private sector.

Legislators supported the Bill, arguing it would greatly minimize the exploitation of Ugandan workers by their employers. Rwakajara explained that the Bill seeks to provide for the setting up of the minimum wage annually, depending on the circumstances in the economy.

If the Bill is passed in its current form, minimum wages will be set for workers in various sectors with guidance from the Minimum Wage Board. Minimum wages for government will be reviewed annually, while the minimum wages for workers in private companies will have to be reviewed every two years. Presenting the Parliament gender committee report on the Bill, MP Hellen Asamo explained that setting up a minimum wage would improve the welfare of workers and enable them live a decent life.

The committee also argued in the report that the Bill would reduce income inequalities and minimise corruption arising from workers’ tendency to steal to make ends meet.

“The law will protect Uganda’s workers from exploitation. So many employers currently pay their employees less than what they deserve. There is a tendency of employers to underpay their workers so as to make more profi ts,” Asamo explained.

The committee, however, noted that there were concerns that setting a minimum wage was likely to increase unemployment since it would increase the cost of production. Mbale Municipality MP Jack Wamanga said:

“This Bill should have been passed yesterday. Ugandans work overtime and are paid miserable salaries which cannot enable them to even go through a week.”

Jinja East MP Paul Mwiru said:

“Many workers are paid less than sh5,000 a day. The Bill will protect our workers from exploitation. If workers are paid well, they can meet some of their medical bills.”

 Uganda People’s Congress president Jimmy Akena said:

“As a country, we have not considered the plight of workers who are always exploited in various ways. We don’t need investors who don’t want to pay a minimum wage because such investors are exploitative.”

“The minimum wage will increase the purchasing power in the economy and drive economic growth,”

Buyaga East MP Eric Musana added. West Budama County MP Richard Othieno Okoth, however, said the Bill was not necessary since the economy was predominantly private sector-led and it was not possible to compel private entities to pay salaries beyond their ability to pay