Wednesday, October 16, 2013


The case of Mukwano Industries former employee Kasim Ssuuna beaten senseless by three policemen for alleged trespass was in the news last week.

Ssuuna, had lost two fingers while working for the company in December 2012 and was compensated for the injury. He was later dismissed for indiscipline. Ssuuna went to the factory to demand more money for his injury and was set upon by the three.

The policemen should answer for their action, but it still leaves the issue of Ssuuna and his former employers hanging and raises the wider question of employee-employer relations.

The tension between the employers and labour are an ever present one.

On the one hand are the managers, who oversee capital on behalf of the owners, their main interest is to manipulate labour, capital and land in such a way as to show a profit and therefore a return on the capital invested. The do this by maximising the output from the factors of production while minimising the cost of generating this output.

The workers on the other hand want to be paid as much as possible for their labour. This pay depends on several factors including the workers’ skill levels, the going market rates for the workers’ skill and not least of all the owners’ need to pay as little as possible for as much output as possible.

The relationship between the workers and the owners of capital is not an equal partnership with the advantage often skewed towards company owners, hence the reason for labour laws meant to more evenly balance the relationship, but even more importantly the presence of labour unions.

Labour unions seek to leverage the numbers of the workers against the power of the owners to ensure that in the search for profit the workers are not treated unfairly.

However the unions in looking out for their members rights have to balance this against the viability of the business. If they push for salaries and benefits that are too high the company will prove unsustainable and eventually shut down. No profits. No jobs. Everybody loses.

It would be utopian to expect that capitalists and the labour unions can be best of friends, if they are there is something wrong. The practical thing would be for both sides to appreciate the mutuality of their relationship and operate with that in mind.

Back to present day.

According to testimony from the labour unions and corroborated by management, Ssuuna was compensated sh1.1m for his injuries. One may argue about the amount paid out but that would be an issue for the law on workers’ compensation and the insurance company which paid out the compensation, with payments paid according to a formula incorporated in the law and is a factor of his income.

By the time the compensation is paid out it is endorsed by the labour office, in the gender and labour ministry.

There is a law of dealing with these issues and for all intents and purposes it seems to have been followed to the letter.

There is a temptation in this country to resort to extra-judicial means to resolve our issues.

They may afford us short term relief, remove the inconvenience of going through laid out processes and may even win one some small PR gains. But for every time that we cut corners it is a weakening of the processes that serves to protect us.

My favourite example is the police. When we are robbed or have an incident that requires police attention many times we ignore it looking to resolve issues without enrolling the police. So when budgets in the police are doled out, they will check your police stations case load and decide to allocate it less money than it probably needs diminishing its capacity to respond effectively. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

For fear of being accused of blaming the victim, Ssuuna by taking the law into his own hands -- bypassing the channels open to him to protest his case threatens the viability of Mukwano Industries and puts hundreds more jobs at risk in so doing.

Is that stretching the issue too much? Maybe it is. But if you think about with the speed of communication today deals are scuttled by averse publicity. For a company like Mukwano which exports to and sources finance from foreign markets this can have a real bearing on operations.

The workers’ rights should be the protected to the full extent of the law, if the law is inadequate we should change. While it might not be fashionable to see the capitalists’ point of view on disputes with workers we have to remember they are the generators of wealth, jobs and taxes we so badly crave and they like all of us deserve the benefit of doubt.

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