In a landmark move, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Uganda to expeditiously enact a new law aimed at safeguarding workers from various forms of violence and harassment within the workplace, including sexual misconduct.
Following the formal ratification of the global treaty to combat workplace violence and harassment on August 7th, 2023, HRW now calls upon President HE. Yoweri Museveni to endorse the pending amended employment bill, which has been awaiting approval since May.
Simultaneously, Ugandan authorities are implored to diligently align all existing laws, regulations, and policies with the provisions of this international treaty.
The treaty’s mandate necessitates the implementation of comprehensive measures against workplace harassment and violence, encompassing preventative strategies, avenues for lodging complaints, robust monitoring, enforcement mechanisms, and support structures for survivors.
Rothna Begum, Senior Women’s Rights Researcher at HRW, expressed, “After years of tireless advocacy by civil society, trade unions, and Ugandan officials, Uganda has officially embraced the global treaty to eradicate workplace violence and harassment. President Yoweri Museveni should now swiftly endorse the employment bill, and Ugandan authorities must prioritize comprehensive reforms to ensure a workplace free from violence and harassment.”
Notably, on August 7th, Uganda officially notified the International Labor Organization of its ratification of Convention 190 on Violence and Harassment (C190), following cabinet approval on May 8th.
This milestone positions Uganda as the eighth African country and the thirty-second globally to endorse the treaty. Uganda played a pivotal role within the African bloc during the convention’s negotiations and committed to ratifying it upon its adoption in 2019.
On May 24th, the Ugandan Parliament passed the Employment (Amendment) Bill 2023, which mandates all employers to proactively prevent sexual harassment while expressly prohibiting mistreatment, harassment, or violence against any employee.
Additionally, it extends labor protections to encompass domestic workers and offers safeguards for select casual workers. The bill now awaits the president’s endorsement.
Studies underscore the pervasive nature of workplace violence in Uganda. A national survey in 2021 revealed that a staggering 86 percent of working women reported instances of violence at work in the preceding year, with verbal abuse being the most prevalent form.
Furthermore, rural women are twice as likely as urban counterparts to face workplace violence, and recent migrant women are also disproportionately affected.
Worse still, a 2020 study by Akina Mama wa Afrika revealed the rampant occurrence of sexual harassment in sectors dominated by women workers, such as floriculture, banking, and urban markets.
Over the past four years, trade unions, local women’s rights, and worker rights groups have campaigned tirelessly for the ratification of C190 and negotiated reforms to align existing laws and policies with the treaty’s provisions.
The multi-stakeholder Technical Working Group on ending sexual harassment and violence in the workplace, established in 2022, played a pivotal role in Uganda’s ratification and subsequent reforms.
Elizabeth Kemigisha, Advocacy Officer at the Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA Uganda), hailed the ratification as a monumental achievement, emphasizing the transformative message that gender-based violence is intolerable in the workplace.
The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2023 represents a substantial stride towards safeguarding workers’ rights. Upon presidential approval, detailed regulations addressing violence and harassment in the workplace will be developed, aligning with the provisions of C190.
This bill not only redefines the “workplace” but also expands its scope to cover all locations linked to work, including commuting. It extends protection not only to formal employees but also encompasses individuals irrespective of contractual status, trainees, terminated employees, job seekers, and applicants.
With the bill’s endorsement pending, Uganda’s authorities are urged to update existing regulations in line with the treaty and conduct consultations at regional levels. HRW urges the Labor Ministry, in collaboration with worker and women’s rights organizations, to identify sectors most susceptible to violence and implement effective protection measures and complaints mechanisms.
HRW also asserts that measures to address the impact of domestic violence in the workplace, including flexible working arrangements and leave for survivors, should be developed in compliance with the treaty and its associated recommendations.
HRW’s impassioned plea comes at a critical juncture, imploring stakeholders to prioritie workers’s rights and herald a new era of labor justice in Uganda.
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