Covid-19 devastates Ugandan workers as economy crumbles
By Our Reporters
The outbreak and spread of the deadly Covid – 19 pandemic into Uganda has devastated the economy, disorganized the workers and left a number of sectors in the country in total shambles. Effects of Corona virus have affected all sectors of the economy with some almost beyond recovery. It will necessitate timely emergency interventions by government and stakeholders to revamp and restore the sectors to normalcy.
But as efforts are being made to recapitalize enterprises and revitalize them, thousands of Ugandans will remain unemployed for sometime unless government rescues them with financial recovery bail outs. Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, in bid to contain spread of Corona virus announced drastic measures in March this this year and lockdown that, despite easing a bit on restrictions, life remains hard and with only survival for the fittest. The drastic measures imposed included among others closing of all schools and institutions of higher learning, non – food shops, shopping malls and arcades, suspension of public and private transport, plus a dusk to dawn (7pm – 6.30am) curfew.
But despite trying to contain the fast - spread of the pandemic, Uganda’s main foreign exchange earner the Tourism industry has nearly collapsed with its associated hotels' business which hosts tourists. Financial institutions are constrained and on the verge of total collapse as liquidity remain inadequate with fewest deposits as most clients withdraw savings to buy food and essentials for survival. It is inconceivable whether banks will be able to recover loans that were being serviced by their clients before corona virus came in. Educational institutions at all levels, schools, both government – run and privately owned, remain closed and in uncertainty as the future remains unpredictable. Parents, especially those for candidate classes, had paid schools tuition fees for term One which was affected by the Covid-19 lockdown. Companies are closing down, and business operators are being evicted from offices and houses for failure to offset rent arrears, while others have had their property confiscated by land lords. The workers both public officers and those in the private companies including the informal sector have been adversely affected. The informal sector, small and medium enterprises have been shuttered almost beyond imagination.
Uganda Government instructed Public officers to work remotely from home and ensure continuity in service delivery. However government did not introduce any financial policy with budgets specifically earmarked for public officers working during the lockdown. The new developments came with generic challenges which had to be adopted by officials involved slowly but constantly. It necessitated stringent measures being forcefully imposed on citizens who weighed options between risking contracting covid-19 pandemic and survival. Exorbitant costs incurred on accessing over - taxed internet and the technological know - how continued to be an impediment to effective use of remote telecommunication.
Most workers find it hard to purchase exorbitantly priced sanitizers, face masks, gloves and first aid kits, including drugs like pain killers, and essential food supplements required for body immunity. During the lockdown workers spent more of their meager resources on buying food which was expensive as the economy shrunk to the lowest ebb with no disposal incomes for savings and investments.
Government workers especially public service employees were caught unprepared as they had to strive under the prevailing circumstances, to survive in what is seen as a “life and death struggle and survival for the fittest”.
Uganda Public Employees Workers Union (UPEU) General Secretary Ms Jolly Aripa Kirabo said Covid-19 has affected their members both positively and negatively. She said the union has tried to operate normally but with members working in shifts while some worked from home to ensure operations continued without being hampered. Uganda Local government and Allied Workers Union (ULGAWU) General Secretary Mr Hassan Mudiba Lwabayi said lack of effective standard operating procedures has hampered conducting of meetings.
"Remote working using internet is still a challenge in Local Government authorities adding that it is expensive to maintain due to high internet charges involved," he said. He said :"Local government workers are demanding that Phase two of their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) for salary enhancement for Local Government workers includes Covid-19 pandemic." Several workers in the informal sector have been laid off and others have had their salaries reduced while others were workers sent home on forced leave as Covid – 19 effects inflict adversely affected the economy. Uganda government has appealed to employers not to lay off workers and requested land lords who are owed colossal sums in rent arrears for office space and accommodation, to be lenient and give time to their tenants. National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) Chairman General Mr Usher Wilson Owere said the Covid – 19 pandemic now ravaging the world has adversely affected Ugandan workers.
"All efforts should be geared towards alleviating hardships encountered by workers in bid to save their jobs and ensure continuity without being laid off," he said.. Mr Owere called on Legislators and the Executive arm of government to fast – track the process of enacting a Minimum Wage for all workers in the country as the most realistic long - term solution. Workers Member of Parliament Hon Margaret Namubiru Rwabushaija said government that has been airlifting its officials to overseas for treatment should should now use Covid-19 lessons to build, revamp and improve health facilities in the country. She said: “Let government use the Covid – 19 pandemic as a wakeup call to revamp our health sector. instead of airlifting its sick officials to overseas hospitals”■