As Parliament processes the Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Bill, 2023, the Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) has called for enforcement of pre-employment medical tests to minimise workplace health and safety hazards.
The federation argued that employers have been dragged into endless court cases and the resultant court fines, for employing workers who are not fit for certain duties and end up with adverse health conditions.
“As it is with the military, the law should ensure that employers especially those in high-risk sectors such as the extraction, take on workers who are fit to work, otherwise employers will be subjected to unnecessary costs,” said Dan Okanya, Head of Policy and Research at FUE.
The federation made this recommendation while appearing before the Committee on Gender, Labour and Social Development on Tuesday, 13 February 2024 with Workers’ Representative, Hon. Charles Bakkabulindi, as acting chairperson.
FUE was concerned that the Bill does not adequately spell out what constitutes occupational and safety hazards, citing mental health as a critical health hazard that should not be left out.
“Mental health is a common emerging issue, our member organisations tell us that over 20 percent of staff have mental health challenges, some of them have best practices that we should pick from,” Okanya said.
The federation proposed that the Bill should prescribe mandatory training for all employees in safety issues such as first aid and that the employer should freely provide such training.
Henry Saaba, a specialist in occupational safety and health at FUE said the law should push for an increase in health inspectors on the ratio of one inspector per region.
According to Saaba, there are less than 20 occupational health inspectors who cannot ably supervise the entire country.
“Although the ideal is to have a health inspector per district, we are saying let government recruit an inspector for each region to enforce the law,” Saaba said.
Hon. Bakkabulindi was concerned with the federation’s position when it questioned the requirement in the Bill for all employers to have a safety committee, saying the law should be fair for all sizes of organisations.
“We are not going to protect those with 50 employees and leave those with two, the law should treat them equally,” said Bakkabulindi.
Bakkabulindi asked FUE whether its members were not affected by the emerging use of technology which he said, is likely to outcompete employees. He charged FUE to conduct a wider analysis of the Bill, observant that it is the national representative of employers.
Workers’ Representative, Hon. Margret Rwabushaija, warned that the Bill should cater for the interests of both workers and employers.
The Occupational Safety and Health (Amendment) Bill, 2023 seeks to expand the scope of the principal Act cognisant that since its enactment in 2006, there has been significant change in the workplace dynamics such as teleworking, virtual jobs outsourcing, and contracting.
The existing law does not address the rapidly evolving sectors such as extractive industry and telecommunication which the Bill intends to legislate for.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Parliament of the Republic of Uganda.