In a powerful act of solidarity, five UTGLAWU members were arrested in Kampala while protesting wage theft and worker exploitation by Adidas, a multinational apparel corporation. The police response, arrests, and detentions exposed the oppressive environment faced by union leaders in Uganda's garment industry.
UTGLAWU, established in the 1950s, has grown into a registered union with 7,000 members, striving to represent workers in textile factories, SMEs, and home-based workers. Structural Adjustment Programs have devastated the sector, leading to job losses, factory closures, and increased informality, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Garment workers endure horrendous conditions, including abuse, delayed wages, and lack of insurance. Employers mishandle social security contributions, while salaries remain below a dollar a day.
Organizing workers in heavily guarded factories poses challenges, impeding unionization efforts. The influx of cheap secondhand clothing from the West undermines Uganda's textile industry. Promised employment opportunities through trade agreements like AGOA have failed to materialize. Workers turn to small businesses, but exorbitant taxes and rents hinder their survival.
Inflation, transportation costs, and delayed salaries exacerbate workers' struggles. The government's focus on job creation neglects labor conditions, perpetuating human rights violations. Urgent labor policy reform and government action are crucial to address these issues.