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LABOUR

The history of Minimum Wage in Uganda

By Agatha Namirembe.

ArembeUPEU Chairperson

Challenges and Solutions

Social security is a broad term for the range of financial benefits available to virtually all workers.  It is a formal arrangement concerned with protection against socially recognized conditions including poverty, old age, disability, unemployment, survivorship, death among others.

Currently, some form of social security exists for Ugandans in formal employment within government and the private sector.  There are schemes that provide employees with income upon retirement or upon leaving formal employment.  There are pensions for public servants who qualify. \Employers and employees also make compulsory contributions to the National Social Security Fund.

From a human rights perspective, social security is much broader than a pension fund. It is viewed as guaranteeing the material conditions for an adequate standard of living.  It serves to protect human beings from the life – threatening an degrading conditions of poverty and material insecurity.  Thus the sick, the aged, people with disabilities, orphans and all persons who cannot take care of themselves economically need to be helped by society in one way or another to meet their basic necessities.

The right to equality protects against discrimination in social security systems. Discrimination may arise from exclusion of certain groups from eligibility for benefits, or from conditions that must be complied with in order to qualify for benefits.

However, social security does not appear to be legally recognized as a right in Uganda.

Indeed, there is often confusion that the funds managed by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) constitute ‘social security’.

Social security legality

  • Social security legalization and policy regulation are vital for effective social security in any given country.
  • Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) proclaimed that, ‘’every member of the society has the right to social security.
  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) also provides in article 9 that ‘’The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to social security, including social insurance’’.
  • The ILO convention 102 sets out the minimum standards of social security benefits for old age, invalidity, survivors, medical care, sickness, unemployment, employment injury family and maternal benefits.
  • In addition to the above policies, Uganda has legislation for social security and social protection including:
  • The Uganda Ministry of Public Service 1994 Pensions Act (Cap 286) for the retired civil servants.
  • The 1985 NSSF act (Cap 222) which is a contributory scheme for workers in the formal sector.
  • Nevertheless, Research by the Uganda Human Rights Commission has revealed no domestic jegislation that recognizes social security as a right in Uganda. This is a very critical omission.

Challenges

Existing arrangements do not amount to social security in the human rights sense because they cater for only those in the formal employment and do not guarantee basic assistance to all other groups in the society, least of all the destitute.  In a sense, the present schemes are designed to protect those in the formal work sector who are relatively more affluent.

Individuals who make monthly contributions to the schemes for many years benefit little upon retirement.  The value of what has been contributed is greatly eroded by inflation and the low rate of interest offered by the schemes.  The pension or the social security benefits turn out to be too little to even sustain the individual at a subsistence level.

Government often control the composition and appointment of governing boards, as well as social security administrations, the management of funds and investment decisions.  At the same time, there are also increasingly positive experiences indicative of restrictions on government intervention.  Clear indications of excessive state intervention or interferences pose a big challenge to the social security systems.

What then should be done?

  • The absence of domestic legislation that recognizes social security as a right in Uganda does not absolve Uganda of its obligations under international law.  Uganda has signed and ratified the International covenant on Economic, social and cultural rights and is therefore obliged to recognize and institute for the fulfillment of the rights outlined in the covenant.  Article 9 of the covenant states that: ‘the state parties to the present covenant recognize the right of every one to social security, including social insurance.’
  • Social security should not discriminate unfairly against anyone on grounds such as sex, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, political opinion, national or social origin, and birth or socio economic status.  This includes both direct and indirect (‘’adverse effects’’) discrimination.
  • The social security system should aim to provide comprehensive coverage against all contingencies and life circumstances that threaten the income – earning ability of persons and their ability to maintain an adequate standard of living.  This includes unemployment, ill-health, disability, maternity, old age, and child support for impoverished care – givers and survivors benefits.

All those in need of social security should be able to gain access to it.

Promoting a broader, more substantive interpretation of these rights is a challenge for human rights activists and scholars ■

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