President Yoweri Museveni has voiced his contrasting views on the hotly contested issue of the minimum wage for workers.
While presiding over the International Labour Day celebrations held at State House Entebbe on Saturday, Museveni said that minimum wage will restrict investors from investing in the country.
Parliament, in February 2019, passed the Minimum Wage Bill 2015 that sought to set up a minimum wage determination mechanism across different sectors of the economy.
The President later resent the Bill back with proposed amendments that should be done, before he assents on it into law.
Speaking today, Sam Lyomoki, the Secretary General of the Central Organization of Free Trade Unions (COFTU) and Workers’ representative in Parliament, called on the President to assent to minimum wage Bill, arguing that it will boost determination and morale for workers.
“There was a thinking in the past that in order to facilitate investment, we didn’t need to have good labour standards but that thinking used to operate several years ago. That thinking has since been abandoned by the rest of the developed world, but this hangover still manifests here in Uganda and other poor countries,” Lyomoki said.
He stated that having poor quality workers creates a viscous cycle where workers get low motivation, morale, low productivity and lower quality products that in turn create low domestic and International markets arising out of low quality products.
“Therefore, your Excellency, we need to break that curse. We know your Excellency that a fixed minimum wage can have issues,” said Lyomoki, as he advocated for it in order to create motivation for workers.
Lyomoki also called for “decent work” saying that labour standards are ingredients for economic development.
In response, Museveni opposed the idea of minimum wage, saying that countries with low labour costs attract investment.
“The question is the level of wage. In the last 43 years since China opened up (in 1978), China was able to attract a lot of investment from the West (Western countries) because of low labor costs. There is no doubt, if you address the issue of minimum wage carelessly, that is how factories left America,” said Museveni.
He further said that when labour costs in china went high, “factories have now started coming here (Africa).”
Museveni stressed that the new development is now Artificial Intelligence (AI) which, he said is the answer to labour costs.
“Now, the answer by the West is Artificial Intelligence where they make machines that are intelligent and can do the work of human beings. In order for Western countries to survive, they have invested so much in Artificial Intelligence. So please, study this matter seriously,” he said.
“Don’t run around and bring half cooked information.”
He added that he is ready to discuss the matter with workers’ representatives but all the above issues must be addressed.
Meanwhile, Lyomoki called for increase in the number of workers’ representatives in Parliament from 5 to 10 members but Museveni opposed the idea.