Hon Dr Sam Lyomoki, like or hate him, he is a true Workers' hero
By Our Reporter
Dr. Sam Lyomoki, Workers Member of Parliament, truly stands out of the crowd as a hero and a doctor for the workers in this generation. People have asked for explaination why Hon Dr. Sam Lyomoki was arrested before he can be named a hero.
The answer is now simple and common knowledge to anyone who has been following the workers' struggle in Uganda. It all started with a childhood dream, with one event leading to another and in 1995, after a futile attempt at negotiating with the authorities to redress the plight of health workers, Dr. Sam Lyomoki led the first successful national health workers strike for which he was arrested, imprisoned and interdicted from work. And now 25 years later after the birth of his childhood dream and 25 years after the method was born and the first confrontation with the authorities, Dr. Sam Lyomoki truly stands out of the crowd as a hero and a doctor for the workers in his generation.
The word "arrest" became Dr Lyomoki's trademark and a custom as arrests after arrests occured after camping and resisting authorities in pursuit for improved rights and welfare of workers.. Hon Dr. Sam Lyomoki was first arrested demonstrating for allowances for health workers in 1995 as General Secretary at Uganda Medical Workers Union, even before before an MP in the struggle that made health workers achieve lunch allowances.
In 2008 he was again arrested while camping throughout health facilities against poor conditions of health workers. Again health workers achieved consolidated health allowances. These allowances are available up to now including the achievement for increment in salaries and recruitment of health workers when, as Chair of the health committee, he moved Parliament to refuse passing the budget till the plight of health workers and deplorable state of the health sector were redressed. He again as chair of the Parliamentary social services committee pushed Parliament to award the teachers the salary increase over a three years period in response to the teachers union strike.
Dr. Lyomoki has not been arrested once or twice but over 10 times and in all cases in a struggle for workers rights. "One time I was arrested after camping at State House demanding for Minimum Wage, registration of teachers union and negotiation machinery for public servants among other things," he said.
The Teachers union, that he had assisted traversing the whole country to organise, was subsequently registered and the negotiation machinery for public servants put in place. He was also arrested again one time when he boycotted the labour day celebrations and instead camped at the constitutional square arguing that it was a futility to participate in mere speeches at labour days which are always ignored and it becomes a rhetoric without tangible results to the toiling workers.
Dr Lyomoki was instrumental in causing the two labour federations ,National Organisations of Trade Unions (NOTU) and Central Organisation of Free Trade Unions (COFTU) to be involved in organising International Labour Day celebrations. Earlier before federations could only read speeches and wait for the Chief Guest to address workers. Dr Lyomoki caused a stir one day when he was arrested battling with gun yielding authorities after he camped at Southern Range Nyanza Jinja demanding for recognition of the union rights for textile workers.
He was later arrested at Kawolo hospital protesting persecution and violation of nurses' rights among Kampala City Council workers; at City Hall, and against violation of union rights of hotel workers in Entebbe; at Kinyara Sugar Works against denial of organizing rights of agricultural workers, among others. Dr Lyomoki says he battled with his fellow labour union colleagues demanding for the recognition of the rights of informal economy workers like market vendors, boda cyclists, artisans and Jua Kalis. It is irrefutable that Dr. Sam has been arrested countless times and the truth is that there is no trade unionist in Uganda who has ever been arrested or stood up to confront the authorities more times than the good "workers' doctor".
His track record speaks for itself and his struggles are common knowledge throughout the country to the extent that if you went to any village in Uganda and asked who the workers MP is, it's the name Dr. Sam Lyomoki, that pops out. Why?. One of the reasons he moved throughout the country together with others to found the first labour union among health workers in Uganda was when he suffered a needleprick injury during the peak of HIV/AIDS in 1993 and the authorities could not administer the standard Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) on him. Immediately after this life threatening incident he again, and without Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), had to save a life by operating on a dying gunshot wounded man unprotected as PPE had run out that night in 1993 at the Mulago causality theatre. Around the same time he had led junior doctors to protest against the authorities when children were needlessly dying in the Acute Care Unit of Mulago Hospital and Complex a facility in which he was excellently serving with perfection .
"In all these struggles I came to the conclusion that the only way to retain the much needed doctors in the country and to improve the health services to realise my childhood dream, was to organise health workers into a formidable organisation so that their voice could be heard," he said. But despite deplorable working conditions, and even when the majority of his fellow doctors at that time preferred to leave the country for green pastures, Dr Lyomoki refused to leave the country. He instead decided to work with Br. Apollo Nyangasi and Sr. Stephanie Mutonyi to form the Uganda Medical Workers Union to fight for health workers.
This was at a time when everyone shunned trade unions in the civil service to the extent that at one time he was summoned by the leadership of the doctors profession to defend himself. They asked him show cause why they would not deregister him from the profession on account of embarrassing them by forming a trade union. What saved the doctor is when he defended himself arguing that even their much coveted doctors' professional association, the Uganda Medical Association ( UMA), is a child of the British Medical Association (BMA) that is both a professional association and a trade union. His hope was that with doctors organised into a union, they would remain in the country and use their voice and solidarity to force the authorities to improve their welfare and the status of the health services. So in 1995 while under interdiction, following his arrested and imprisonment after leading the first successful national health workers strike, Ugandan doctors in Austria arranged for him to travel for a masters degree in Public Health in Austria. It was while he was in Austria pursuing this masters degree that Ugandan workers demanded that he returns to contest in the Parliamentary elections in 1996 and that is why and how he entered Parliament. "A hero is revealed not by words but by works and or actions," said Dr Sam Lyomoki, Workers MP■