Members from PSI Ugandan affiliates from the National Union of Educational Institutions (NUEI), Uganda Electricity and Allied Workers Union (UEAWU), Uganda Public Employees Union (UPEU), Uganda Medical Workers Union (UMWU), National Union of Government and Allied Workers (NUGAW), Uganda Local Government Workers’ Union (ULGWU) and Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union (UNMU) participated in the Uganda National Strategic Organising Workshop organised in the framework of the project implemented by PSI in partnership with Kommunal and Union to Union on "Organising workers for trade union unity of action, density and quality public services in East Africa" that has been running from 2018-2022.
The main objectives of the meeting were to:
Make an analysis of the current membership density since the project inception in 2018
Strategic organising strategies: Share practical experiences on organizing strategies: success and failures/ best strategies
The unions analysed their density and the challenges associated with density and organising. A comparison of union density against potential members showed that many of the unions are still struggling to increase their density. This is mainly attributed to the merging and rationalisation of some sectors such as energy and government agencies. The job uncertainties associated with the rationalisation have made some members fearful of joining the union, while others have decided to join so that their rights are protected even during the merger process. Issues of intimidation, and employers’ attitudes towards the union remain a great challenge. Additionally, the deliberate efforts by some of the government officials, especially in the human resource department, to refuse to start deducting dues from enrolled members was decried a great barrier towards increasing book members.
In terms of the impact of Covid-19 on the recruitment drive, it was noted that the two years when Uganda was under lockdown, greatly affected the planned physical recruitment drives. During the pandemic lockdown, only 10% of public sector workers, excluding healthcare workers, were expected to be in the office. This undermined the planned organising drives for many of the unions. The nurses’ union noted that one of the strategies that enabled them to increase their membership was a successfully organised strike that resulted in its members getting an increase in their lunch and transport allowances. Additionally, the union opted to provide other services to its members like health insurance coverage, girl child education upon a demise of a member, and securing capacity building scholarships for members.
The Uganda Medical Workers’ Union observed that due to splinter unions and the Ministry of Health’s desire to create associations to weaken the union, the union has lost many members. The Uganda Local Government Workers’ Union reported a countrywide strike due to the failure to increase the salaries of its members for close to a decade. The lack of goodwill on the part of the government of Uganda to implement signed CBA between them and the public sector unions has led members to question the union’s ability to negotiated. It was also reported that the government was using the principle of the ‘divide and rule’ in terms of salary discrimination, with scientist were being paid sometimes five times more than their counterparts with the same qualifications, especially in high school settings. This creates a gap among public sector workers weakening their solidarity. PSI affiliates were applauded for having stood in solidarity with the teachers’ union (UNATU) when the government threatened to sack the teachers who were on strike.
In terms of strategies, the affiliates noted that they were reaching out to associations created in their various sectors as a way of building solidarity across board and counter government move to weaken the union through dialogue with associations. Additionally, efforts were being made to recruit members employed by private companies like the health and electricity sectors. The UPEU noted that they made it their mandate to include some of the clauses negotiated in the CBA in the human resource manual as a safeguard against employer regime changes.
The national organising team was also encouraged to adopt digitalisation to improve its visibility and communication, especially among the young workers. Young workers who had their own meeting had the opportunity to share their challenges in recruiting young workers into the union. These challenges included the generation gap, fear of intimidation by employers into joining a union, the non-involvement of young workers in the collective bargaining process by some unions etc. They noted that mentoring needs to be taken seriously to prepare them for union leadership. Additionally, the adoption of creative activities, including engagement in national policy and debates like tax justice, would be more appealing to the young workers in addition to the fight for better pay. Consideration should also be given to engaging students while still in institutions of learning so that they appreciate trade unionism and do not have the false impression that trade unionism teaches people to rebel against employers. Continuous capacity building would also be key to build the confidence of young workers.