The Employment (Amendment) Bill 2022 (Bill) was re-tabled for First Reading before the Parliament of Uganda on 21 September 2022. The Bill seeks to amend the Employment Act 2006 (Act). Some of the highlights of the Bill follow below.
Protection of domestic workers and casual employees
The Bill seeks to regulate the employment of domestic workers and casual employees. It includes a contract of domestic work or casual work under the definition of a ‘contract of service’ and to provide for a domestic worker to be considered as an employee under a contract of employment.
The current Act defines a casual employee but does not make provisions for the terms of employment of a casual employee. The Employment Regulations 2011 (Regulations) attempted to cater for casual employees by providing that a casual employee who is engaged continuously for four months is entitled to a written contract and all rights and benefits enjoyed by other employees. However, the Regulations did not address the rights of a casual employee.
The Bill seeks to convert the employment of a casual employee who remains continuously engaged for four months to a term employment. After four months, the casual employee will be entitled to a written contract and to all rights and benefits as enjoyed by other employees as provided under the Act.
Under the current Act, repatriation upon the termination of employment is only possible for an employee recruited for employment at a place more than 100 km from the workplace.
The Bill proposes reducing the distance, so that an employee recruited for employment at a place more than 50 km away from his or her home, is entitled to repatriation at the expense of the employer. In addition, employees who have been employed for at least five years (as opposed to 10 years in the current Act) have a right to repatriation too.
The Bill provides that repatriation will be calculated at a minimum compensatory rate of 7 km to 1ℓ of fuel (petrol) from the work town to hometown plus a sum of 25 currency points (equivalent to UGX 500 000) as a facilitation fee from hometown to home village or place of domicile.
Protection of working breastfeeding mothers from discrimination
The Bill seeks to amend the Act by requiring an employer to accord a female breastfeeding employee a daily 30 minute break in every two hours of continuous work or reduction in the hours of daily work for an additional 60 working days (after expiry of maternity leave) to enable her to breastfeed her child.
Further, the Bill also requires an employer to establish a lactation station at the workplace for the female breastfeeding employees. While it is not expressly provided that a nursing mother can carry her baby to the workplace, the proposed amendments seem to imply this.
Under the current Act, it is up to the employer and employee to agree on how the severance pay should be calculated.
Under the Bill, severance pay will be at the minimum of one month’s salary at the time of termination of the employee’s employment.
Protection from sexual harassment and other forms of abuse
The current Act requires an employer with more than 25 employees to put in place measures to prevent sexual harassment at their workplaces.
Under the Bill, all employers regardless of the number of their employees are required to put in place a sexual harassment policy.
The Bill also provides for the prohibition of abuse, mistreatment, harassment (other than sexual harassment) and violence against employees.
The Bill provides for the recruitment and employment of migrant workers. It sets out the employer’s obligations to migrant workers as follows (among others):
- ensuring the employment is in accordance with the Act, standard contract of service and other applicable law;
- providing the migrant worker orientation on the terms and conditions of employment and other relevant information;
- ensuring that the migrant worker has a valid work permit; and
- repatriating a migrant worker or his or her body upon death or upon expiry or termination of his or her contract of service.
The Bill also seeks to regulate the employment of persons recruited for employment abroad by mandating the Minister responsible to prescribe the minimum employment standards applicable to such persons. The minimum employment standards per the Bill include job descriptions, working hours, guaranteed wages and emoluments among others.
The Bill seeks to provide for compulsory registration and licensing of the recruitment agencies for domestic workers and non-labourers. The Bill also requires a recruitment agency to undertake due diligence on the suitability of the employer under whose employment it intends to place an employee.
Further, the Bill sets out obligations to be undertaken by a recruitment agency granted a permit under the Act for the purpose of recruiting for the external labour market.
Outsourcing of services
Under the Bill, a person who contracts another to offer services, will be required to ensure that the contract of employment of the employee carrying out the services is in line with the Act, the standard contract of service and other applicable law, regulations and collective bargaining agreements.
The Bill seeks to address long-standing loopholes in the substantive Act that affect less formal employees (like domestic workers, casual employees, migrant workers, and breastfeeding mothers) that have been avenues of exploitation and abuse. For this reason, the proposed amendments are a positive step. It will be discussed in Parliament and then, if assented to by the President of Uganda, passed into law.