By Alex Asiimwe
On the 22nd June, the President addressed the Nation on matters of COVID-19 and the lockdown relaxation.
He pointed out the need to ensure compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures as stipulated by the Ministry of Health.
He also said that more effort is needed in areas with poor compliance to prevention measures such as Kikuubo in Kampala and other crowded down-town settings, some supermarkets that do not enforce Covid-19 control SOPs.
It should be noted that non-compliance from the workplace may pose a risk to all Ugandans and may lead to further spread of the infection hence eroding the gains so far registered.
The Covid-19 outbreak in one factory is a wake-up call for all labour officers including occupational health inspectors both at the Directorate of Labour, Employment and Occupational Safety and Health, Ministry of Gender and Labour Officers in local governments and KCCA to intensify labour/occupational health inspections to enforce the COVID-19 prevention standards at workplaces.
In order to complement the efforts of the Ministry of Health (MoH) in containing this pandemic, the Directorate of Labour, Employment and Occupational Safety and Health in developed COVID-19 Prevention at Workplaces SOPs.
The SOPs are intended to ensure the safety and health of workers, employers, contractors and the general public during the fight of this pandemic.
To contextualize these SOPs with the national legal framework, S.10 of the Employment Act, 2006 empowers the labour officer to enforce legal provisions relating conditions of work and protection of workers.
Similarly, s.11 of the same Act empowers the labour officers to close a workplace if there is imminent danger to health or safety of the workers.
Also note that the s.13 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 provides the duty of employers to protect his or her workers and the general public from the dangerous aspects of the employer’s undertaking at his or her own cost.
The law further mandates employers to provide adequate and appropriate information, instructions, training and supervision necessary to ensure the safety and health of the employees, and the application and use of occupational safety and health measures, taking into account the functions and capabilities of the different categories of workers in an undertaking.
It is for that reason that the Ministry of Gender issued a circular dated 13th May 2020 to all CAOs, town clerks and KCAA to facilitate labour officers to undertake COVID-19 Labour Inspections and report monthly.
The COVID-19 Prevention at Workplaces Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) requires the employers to;
i. Establish a workplace COVID-19 Taskforce of 3 to 5 workers with gender lens. This Committee is mandated to champion the COVID-19 prevention and control measures in a facility;
ii. maintain workplace hygiene which includes both handwashing facilities and tools for that purpose
iii. put in place proper signage which includes informative, precaution, mandatory and prohibitive signages on COVID-19 prevention and control measures;
iv. implement social distancing. All employers are required to configure their work processes to COVID-19 prevention and control measures including social distancing in all company/organization work processes;
v. monitoring of employee’s health. This includes medical check-up of all employees on the symptoms of COVID-19, providing necessary tools to the front line workers, training all workers on the COVID-19 prevention, reporting employees and clients who present with symptoms of the COVID-19 to the MoH;
vi. respect employee rights which includes employees suffering from COVID-19 should not be terminated but instead be granted sick leave with pay in accordance with the Employment Act, 2006, Contract of Service and Collective Bargaining Agreement if any.
Employers, Government remains committed to protecting all persons in Uganda.
Accordingly, it has recruited over 159 Labour Officers across the country to enforce legal provisions relating conditions of work and protection of workers but also most importantly provide advisory services including training to employers for enhanced labour productivity.
Therefore, Employers, utilize these labour offices in the fight against this pandemic.
The Writer is a Commissioner Labour, Industrial Relations & Productivity, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development