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Dark Side of Youth Employment in Uganda

The solution to such grievous violations of labor and human rights rests in the strict implementation of existing labor laws and policies.

By Rosette Gladys Nandutu

Uganda may be robbing itself of its best workforce as more young people flock to the Middle East in search of better-paying jobs.

Despite the country’s economic strides, a distressing predicament currently taints its positive development – the systematic practice of unpaid youth labor.

A disconcerting majority of young workers in Uganda are often victims of this exploitative practice.

Recent surveys indicate that approximately 83% of the young population are employed, yet a disturbing proportion of them have not received their rightful due.

These figures distressingly showcase the stark reality of rampant labor rights violations in Uganda.

The Parliament passed the Employment Amendment Bill 2022 on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, at a sitting chaired by Deputy Speaker Thomas Tayebwa.

The bill proposes that if one hires a casual laborer for continuous 6 months, the employer should enter into a contract with the casual worker if he or she so wishes to redeploy them, and should provide employment benefits – which most employers fail to do.

Many young workers are toiling for more than 6 months without a guiding contract, which most employers avoid since they fear potential legal action if they fail to meet the employees’ expectations.

This bill, according to workers’ representatives, was devised to protect casual workers who they say are manipulated by employers, paying them less or not at all than the agreed-upon wages.

If the statute is clear, why then is the problem persisting in a grave manner?

It stems from deeply rooted systemic issues relating to inadequately implemented employment policies, lack of accountability, and a general unawareness of labor rights among young people.

Bearing witness to the precarious working conditions of no welfare and transport allowances, human rights defenders have continually pointed out the violation of young people’s rights.

Labor rights are an integral part of human rights, and their violation is tantamount to human rights abuses.

The insidious practice of unpaid labor not only breaches the Employment Act but also infringes upon the universal right to “just and favorable remuneration ensuring an existence for his family, himself, and his dependents,” as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Moreover, the issue worsens when their predicament bleeds into their mental health, an oft-forgotten aspect in the discourse of labor rights.

Precarious labor conditions, deprivation of rightful wages, and the ensuing financial struggle engender a toxic environment that profoundly affects the mental well-being of the young workforce.

Studies reveal that financial insecurity ranks as a leading stressor, directly affecting their mental health status.

Therefore, the grim reality of unpaid youth labor not only poses economic consequences but also catalyzes a mental health crisis among young people in Uganda.

The solution to such grievous violations of labor and human rights rests in the strict implementation of existing labor laws and policies.

There is an urgent need for Uganda’s government to take definitive actions in ensuring that primary employment policies match the actual practices at workplaces.

Educating young workers about their rights, the employment contract laws, and their ability to take legal action against their employers is crucial.

Ignorance is not bliss when it undermines an individual’s rights, and thus, spreading awareness is a quintessential step towards eradicating exploitative labor practices.

Uganda stands at a crossroad today. As the nation strides towards economic growth, it must simultaneously acknowledge and address the debilitating issue of unpaid youth labor.

The plight of its young workers not only negates labor policies and human rights practices but also risks the mental health of the nation’s future.

How Uganda chooses to act will determine not only its prosperity but also its reputation in upholding principles of human rights and social justice.

As the country continues to pride itself as a flourishing economy, it must no longer ignore this quiet crisis in the interest of its growing economy and indeed, for its future.

It’s high time to ensure that when the young people of Uganda go to work, they are not just employed, but also ensured of their remuneration, their rights upheld, thereby vindicating the true spirit of the labor law.

Post Author: admin

We empower. Change Narratives. Sustain
Female Journalists Forum – Uganda (FEMJOF-UGANDA) is a not-for-profit Community Based Organisation run by a group of female journalists in Gulu, Northern Uganda. We train, mentor, coach and counsel female journalists to change the narratives and become tomorrow’s great journalism leaders.

The idea to have a female media organization was established in 2019 when a group of about ten female journalists based in Gulu met and realized the shrinking number of female field journalists and the need to encourage female journalism students to join the newsroom with a purpose.

This dream to have a network and support system of female journalists based in Gulu was realized in 2021 when the organization was officially registered to not only bring together female journalists but advocate for a better working environment for female journalists, TRAIN , mentor, coach and counsel those that need a hand to reach their destiny.

In this, we envisaged better representation of women and female journalists in the media through a broad based approach to storytelling hence changing the traditional narratives of what and who a female journalist is. Currently, we have more than twenty members at different media houses and our mentorship programme at journalism institutions of learning is a step towards increasing this number in the newsrooms.

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