TRALAC - Trade Law Centre

Problems at Ugandan Apparel Manufacturer

Thursday, 23 October 2003

Source: The Monitor (Kampala)

More than 1,000 young women who were on strike at a local textile factory have been fired.

The firm, which produces and exports textiles to the United States under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, AGOA, has also been closed temporarily.

The employees, believed to be more than 1,000, and popularly known as Agoa girls, were sacked following a two-day strike at the Apparel Tri-Star factory in Bugolobi, Kampala.

The head of the company, Mr V. Kananathan, wrote to Dr David Ogaram, the commissioner for labour in the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, yesterday confirming the sacking.

"In light of the [strike], we have been forced to take a very painful decision, which is to terminate the services of all our production staff summarily due to unbecoming conduct," the official wrote in his letter.

Kananathan said the strike had disrupted the operations of the company, leading to "irreparable damage" to its reputation and operations.

The letter also announced the temporary closure of the factory. "In view of the recent strike undertaken by our employees, we have decided to temporarily close down the factory," Kananathan wrote.

The official, who was not available for comment, said the girls would be paid all their outstanding arrears as of Monday.

Strike ends

The sacking of the girls came after Inspector General of Police Katumba Wamala ended the strike yesterday.

The girls had been protesting low pay, poor working conditions and reports that some of them were about to be sacked.

They also said that they were being forced to share a dormitory and toilet facilities with males.

On Tuesday morning, the girls barricaded themselves inside the dormitory and refused to come out, despite appeals from management and police. Then Maj. Gen. Wamala turned up at around midday yesterday with a truckload of anti-riot cops. For close to an hour, he urged the girls to call off the strike.

Some of them told The Monitor that when they refused to open, Wamala ordered his squad to storm.

The police boss reportedly had asked the girls to end the strike while he brokers a meeting between them and the management of Tri-Star, which is run with government support.

That meeting had been scheduled for Saturday and the girls had threatened to burn the factory if the decision made did not go their way.

The Tri-Star management has refused to comment on the strike since it began.

The police chief did not speak to reporters as he drove out of the factory premises.

About 1,400 girls spent more than 24 hours inside the dormitory before the strike ended.

After the locks to the dorm were broken yesterday, several girls emerged looking hungry and haggard and dashed to nearby shops to grab a bite.

Some of the girls, who spoke to The Monitor on condition of anonymity, said they had survived on doughnuts and water from a fire hose.