Workers sorting tomatoes/Business Focus photo
Parliament has approved a provision in the Employment Amendment Bill 2022, mandating all employers to provide all employers with contracts after six months of working continuously despite a heated debate over the matter.
While presenting the Committee report, Flavia Kabahenda (DWR Kyegegwa) recommended an ation in the report in the Employment Bill 2022 in which the Gender, Labour and Social Development that recommended an insertion of a new clause 34A stipulating, A person shall not employ another person as a casual employee for a continuous period exceeding six months.
In clause 34(2) Kabahenda said that, Where a person employs another person as a casual employee for a period exceeding six months, the person shall, at the expiry of the six months, be deemed to have entered into a contract of service with the casual employee.
She defended the decision noting that the provision is intended, “To ensure that a person employed as a casual employee has security of job tenure in the event of continuous employment exceeding six months. To provide for the protection of persons employed as casual employees who often times work on casual basis terms indefinitely.
However, the proposal attracted a heated debate starting with Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa who wondered if the Committee had thought through the proposal, because the recommendation would cause serious unemployment on construction sites and factories.
He said, “I can tell you with the kind of unemployment that we have, no employer will take them on. So you will have a high turnover of casual work that will actually render casual work unprofitable. I strongly object to these amendments, they don’t ogre well with employment.”
The Deputy Speaker added, “But you see these people are paid, if my business can’t sustain them, what do you want me to do? Do I close the business or do I chase them? Because I will have an option, I won’t sell property to go and pay what the law requires me to do with these people. I can tell you for industries, this is going to be tough on them, the solution will be automation and those people whom you are talking about, they will lose their jobs.”
Minister of State for Industries, David Bahati backed the Deputy Speaker arguing that although there is need to balance between the challenge of unemployment and welfare of employees, but the proposal to deem someone an employee after six months may prove very challenging for owners of industries.
Minister Bahati said, “This will also push away some investments in terms of prediction that there will be a cost on this. So I am suggesting that in terms of giving these people contracts can be handled at regulation level. But if we entrench it within the law, it is going to be a huge cost then many investors will opt for automation and then we lose the employment.”
Similar sentiments were shared by Nandala Mafabi (Budadiri West) who sought to have casual labourers be defined as workers who come in when there are assignments, saying casual work shouldn’t be limited to non-expertise but also professionals.
“But the moment you say that a casual labourer after six months he becomes an employee, you are making a huge mistake. The moment you say this person is supposed to be permanent, it means this person is now supposed to access the payroll. Even us professionals, sometimes we can be casual labourers, we aren’t going to employ those ones,” he Mafabi.
Edson Rugumayo (Youth Central) backed the proposal arguing, “These people are dumped and they suffer. This is why it is important that this hosue makes this drastic legislation such that we put it in place such that if a person is employed on casual basis for six months, let them get the benefits of an employee.”
The Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Betty Amongi informed the Committee that under the current employment Act, regulations 2011, Regulation 39 provides that casual employees who works continuously for four months, are entitled to a written contract as casual employees.
She said that although the issue had been provided for in the regulations, the Industrial Court in many of its rulings called for the provision of this in the Employment Bill instead of leaving it in the regulations.
She said, “So it is really up to Parliament, because we have tested this regulation at the Ministry and at the Industrial Court and the ruling in the industrial court is that regulations are inferior and the principle of giving someone a contract after four months isn’t embedded in the Employment Act.”
Attorney General, Kiwanuka Kiryowa urged Parliament to abandon the amendment, and have it catered for and ventilated under the regulations and rejected claims that the Regulations are weak as alluded by by Minister Amongi.
He said, “I haven’t confronted a situation where a court has refused to follow a regulation that isn’t sanctioned by parliament, it is just subsidiary legislation and if there are any gaps in those regulations, we can address them. So I don’t want to say that the regulations are weak. I am hearing it now, but we can actually go to the industrial court and address it.”
The Minister however clarified that many people have been hiding under casual employees to deny staff from enjoying their benefits on the basis they aren’t experts in their work yet these have been working for 1-3years, but have no contracts.
There was a proposal to increase time from 6months to one year, and when the Deputy Speaker put up a question for vote on whether the new clause should be inserted to provide for automatic employment after 6months, MPs voted yes.