- Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 0948 EAT on Thursday 7 2022.
Umeme office in Sironko. File photo
After losing a labour dispute before the Industrial court, former workers of Umeme now accuse their union bosses of conniving with their employer to deny them gratuity amounting to Shs 38bn. They, however, did not back up this claim with any evidence.The 1,200 former and current employees, through Uganda Electricity and Allied Workers Union (UEAWU), which was formed in 2005 to cater for the welfare of their members, sued Umeme in 2016, accuse the company of refusing to pay their 30 per cent gratuity that accrued between 2005 and 2015.One of the three pleadings that workers presented was for court to establish whether the contested gratuity for Umeme staff members is an interest or a right, and whether the company is legally bound to provide gratuity. After a six-year legal battle, the head judge Asaph Ruhinda Ntengye on March 4 delivered his judgment quashing the union’s Shs 38bn payment.“The remedy granting to the employees as proposed by the claimants [employees] are not legally tenable. In conclusion, the claim [of Shs 30 per cent] fails with orders that a provident fund as established by the respondent [Umeme] with five per cent contribution of workers and 10 per cent of respondent [Umeme] shall be in place or continue in operation,” ruled Ntengye.Part of the claimant’s claim was that as a union responsible for collective bargaining on behalf of its members, they signed and agreed with the respondent to finalize the issue of terminal benefits within the year of 2014. However, Umeme is said to have neglected the demands of the workers and instead introduced a provident fund of five per cent.The respondent, who was represented by Allan Waniala from S&L Advocates, told court that whereas the claimant proposed a review of its members’ terminal benefits, particularly inclusion of the gratuity, there was no position beneficial to both parties, which is the reason the respondent established a five per cent provident fund for retirement benefits.FOUL PLAY?After this judgment, the aggrieved employees told this reporter that after their union leaders connived with Umeme bosses, the latter came up with a plan that the union should invest the Shs 5 billion in Treasury bills and bonds so as to accumulate a sum sharable amongst the 1,200 members, which they say will be small money.A former Umeme employee, who did not want to be named, told us that all their efforts to address inefficacy of their union through the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development were frustrated.Based on this ruling, some aggrieved current employees say they feel cheated because the unfair provident fund comes in place after ten years of hard labour, strong performance and great results.“With that solid foundation to which the company is seated today, we deserve more. If the employer is confortable with offering provident fund over gratuity, let it date back right from inception of the company’s operation. Otherwise, a decade is a long time for us to walk away with nothing,” the aggrieved employee added. He said: “morale is at all-time low.”The union, we have been told, is preparing to appeal against the court’s decision.In his ruling, the presiding judge noted that the counsel for the claimant should have convinced the respondent over the proposal of terminal benefits instead of forcing the respondent to provide for gratuity at all costs.According to counsel Ntengye, what was referred to as interference was the respondent providing a solution where there was an impasse because it had the obligation to continue improving the welfare of its employees.On the issue of interference, the presiding judge noted that he had no doubt that as a registered union, the claimant was obliged, under the recognition agreement signed between the two parties in 2005, to negotiate for better working conditions on behalf of the members.