By Male Deogratius
Workers in the tea sector across the country have appealed to the government and their employers to increase their pay as a measure to improve their welfare.
Tea sector workers told this website that they are least paid despite having economic times affecting the entire world, which calls for a minimum wage.
Paddy Twesigomwe, one of the workers, said there is need for better policies to ensure the welfare of tea workers.
“There is a need to respect labour and workers. As workers, we are asking for fair wages as an appreciation for our labour. The economy is bad, the prices of commodities are high but the wages are low” he said.
Twesigomwe, also a workers’ leader, added, “We do not want strikes but we believe in dialogue. We appeal to the government to put in place the tea policy to harmonise costs and revenues in the tea sector.”
Other plantation workers said that the herbicides used in plantations and the agro-chemicals used are dangerous especially to women which calls for use of safety gears. The workers said that there is a need to implement the health and safety measures in plantations for the good of workers.
“Workers should be given safety gears and there must be facilities to protect workers from dangerous chemicals as they work for better quality tea” he said.
The workers made the remarks while celebrating the belated labour day and the international tea day at Ankole Tea Estates Premises at Kyamuhunga in Bushenyi District.
Advocacy organisations, Solidaridad East Africa and Trust Africa in partnership with the National Union of Plantation and Agricultural Workers, Uganda organized the event with the view of increasing awareness about the benefits in the tea sector among the workers.
Alfred Mubangizi, the Solidaridad East Africa official described the workers as the heart of the tea industry that needs to be looked after carefully if the industry is to survive.
“We pledge to continue working with the workers union, private sector and government to create a sustainable and prosperous tea sector that benefits all stakeholders through supporting the creation of sound policies, facilitating multi stakeholder dialogue platforms and strengthening workers and farmers organisations” he said.
Robert Balikenda, the human resource manager McLeod Russel, Uganda Limited said that the company gives utmost importance to the hard work of every employee and believes in giving all employees equal rights and that the workers are not taken for granted.
“The fact is that no company can flourish or even exist without labour. Companies should ensure that, other than following the 8 hours of work, labour or employees are not discriminated against on the basis of tribe, race, gender and or disability and should be paid competitive wages or salary” he said.
Balikenda however observed that while the minimum wage is a legal earning for workers, there is a risk of creating unemployment as firms cannot afford to employ workers.
“Firms may become uncompetitive. In some cases, a higher minimum wage could push up costs causing a firm to go out of business because they may not be able to afford wage costs. This might be a particular problem if the firm is competing in a global market and higher wage costs make them uncompetitive compared to low-wage cost countries” he explained.
He said that the minimum wage as requested by the tea workers could cause cost-push inflation, black market of labour and that it could lead to limited impact on relative poverty.
According to Balikenda, tea is a major crop across the world employing millions of people hence the need to celebrate labour day because without labour there is no tea even when there is mechanization. About lack of safety equipment, Mr Balikenda blamed the lack of safety gears to theft among them workers whom he accused of selling them to outsiders.
While presiding at the event, Bushenyi DPC John Bosco Sserunjogi said that there is a need to celebrate and appreciate the workers because they are the engine of social -economic transformation of the society.
He asked the workers to love and protect their jobs as well as minimize conflicts relating to payments for the good of the society.
“We support the need for better policies and we appeal for more processing of tea with additional value to ensure better prices for the benefit of workers” said Sserunjogi who represented the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Robert Atuhaire.