Workers at the Darling Company in Bweyogerere, a Wakiso suburb, yesterday set out to demonstrate at the factory, protesting bad working conditions but ended in running battles with the police who used tear gas to disperse them.
The police were called in by management as the workers swore not to get to work until they are given a pay raise, protective wear and reduction of working hours. The company manufactures beauty products, including braids. The workers also demanded that they should be treated with respect, saying their supervisors treat them inhumanely.
Efforts to get a comment from the management of the company were futile since they were said to be locked up in meetings from morning until afternoon. Persistent calls in the afternoon were also not taken.
But the workers who number about 1,000, said they are made to work from 8am to 5:30pm without rest. They said the majority was being paid Shs3,000 per day and those in junior supervisory roles and long serving ones were paid between Shs5,000 and Shs8,000 per day.
“They take at times a whole week to pay us and when they do, they always leave arrears. When they sack you, you are not paid your arrears,” the angry workers, most of them young men and women, said.
“We are not allowed to sit. Even when you are going to the toilet, you are supposed to get permission from the supervisor!” some of the workers complained. They said they are forced to handle chemicals without protective gear because the firm does not reportedly provide them.
“When we come in the morning they lock us up. We are not supposed to get out of the factory until after work. Suppose there’s a fire or any other emergency, wouldn’t we die like flies?” the workers complained.
The workers also said they are not allowed to enter the factory with their phones and bags.
Anti-riot police from Bweyogerere police post rushed to the scene and forced the workers out of the factory premises. The workers then pitched camp at the NGEN petrol station next to Darling factory. Seeing journalists, the workers started pouring out their hearts, telling of their ordeals.
“When you are joining the company, they charge you Shs25,000 for medical checkup and when you are found HIV positive, you are denied the job. You also won’t be employed if you are pregnant,” a worker said.
Police asked them to vacate the petrol station, to enable the station operators do their work but the workers demanded an answer from management before they leave.
Kira Town Council chairman, Mr Mamerito Mugerwa and Division Police Commander, Ms Maria Theresa Nyanga, asked the workers to appoint representatives with who management sat in a brief meeting.
The officials asked the workers to keep calm and get back to work today as their (workers’) problems would be looked into.