Lira district’s total labour force was estimated at 123,450 thousand persons in 2006 (UNHS 2005/06) and is projected to reach 219,142 thousand by 2015. The labour force participation rate was 68 per cent with more males than females. The combined unemployment and underemployment rates accounted for 30 per cent of the labour force.
Basing on the CIS 2010 result, out of 120,000 thousand working age groups in the district, only 56,214 thousand were actively working in 2010. Nearly 75 per cent were actively working in rural areas. The labour market will, therefore, need to absorb about 162,928 thousand people in 2015. Moreover, 50 per cent of the economically active youth are not engaged in income-generating employment while the rest are employed as unpaid family workers. The most affected is the young female population (14-30 years) of which 80 per cent are engaged in unpaid family work (Population and Housing Census, 2002). The overall unemployment rate was 20 per cent in 2002 with the urban unemployment rate standing at 14 per cent (UBOS 2002). The proportion of the permanently employed to the total labour force was 2.3 per cent in 2002/03 and reduced to 2.1 per cent in 2005/06.
In addition, subsistence agriculture remained a major sector of employment increasing from about 78 per cent in 2002/03 to about 83 per cent in 2005/06 (2006 UNHS). Between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of self-employed people in the agriculture sector increased by 11.2 per cent. This could be partly due to the failure to get non-agricultural activities (-9.4 per cent) per annum. While the Ugandan economy has been growing at an average rate of 7 per cent for the last 10 years, the average rate of population growth remains high at 3.2 per cent per annum this affect the district as well.
While agriculture accounts for over 80 per cent of labour force, problems of low agricultural productivity and land degradation appear to be getting worse. Farmer’s yields are typically less than one-third of the yields obtained on research stations. The rate of soil fertility depletion in the district is among the highest in country with an average annual rate of total depletion of 70 kilograms of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium per hectare. The agriculture sector therefore requires a strong stimulus if it is to absorb the increasingly large number of the labour force. Alternatively, other sectors in the district (industry and services) will have to expand significantly in order to create opportunities for labour migration from the agricultural sector.
The industrial sector which is the immediate alternative employer is still equally under developed. Over 95 per cent of Uganda’s exports are primary agricultural commodities which Lira district alone contributes to about 30% of the total agricultural exports. The district’s industrial sector is largely informal characterized by production of low quality goods; gross deficiencies in technology; lack of indigenous capacity; little attention to research; low development and innovation; lack of foundational engineering industries and foundries necessary for the manufacture of tools and spare parts for use in different industries and the generally poor state of roads and rail infrastructure that makes supplies and distribution of good costly. These inhibiting constraints will have to be relaxed in order to create opportunities for absorbing the increasingly expanding labour force.
Labour productivity in the district is still very low. The value-added per worker in Uganda is 68 per cent lower than that in India and 06 per cent lower that in China. Tanzania’s labour productivity is 28 per cent higher than that of Uganda. For instance, the WB/UMACIS survey (2003) reported that about 24.7 per cent of workers surveyed reported having been ill within the previous 30 days.
Government has put in place several labour laws to regulate the work environment and facilitate delivery of Labour Officers to provide Technical Advice to employers. However, out of 121 districts, only 30 have recruited Labour Officers to enforce Labour legalization. Lira district has one labour officer serving the whole of Lango sub region with labour issues. There is also inadequate funding to the Centre and Local Governments to register and undertake sufficient inspection of work places. The level of awareness of the Provisions of the existing Labour Laws is also unacceptably low among the workers and employers.
There is a structural segregation of women into low-paying sectors; 60 per cent of employed women are in the three lowest paying sectors (agriculture, household and quarrying) compared to 35 per cent of men. In the private sector women are paid lower wages than men for the same work; in 3 out of 9 identified occupations, women earn less than 75 per cent of the average male wage (MFPED 2009).
Constraints to the Performance of Labour and Employment Sector
i) Inappropriate education and training system; The current education system prepares graduates to become job seekers rather than job creators. Little emphasis is placed on entrepreneurship development vocational training and skills development at all levels. Most of Uganda’s employees Lira district inclusive have inadequate technical and professional qualifications. This factor is basically responsible for some employers’ general preference for expatriate personnel to locally trained Ugandans.
ii) Inadequate attention to workers’ training policies and programmes.
iii) Low levels of income and savings and inadequate financial intermediation to enable potential entrepreneurs to start new enterprises or expand existing ones.
iv) Poor Health: Poor health conditions owing to malnutrition, lack of access to clean water, unhealthy housing and environmental sanitation limit the productivity of the labour force.
v) Inadequate infrastructure: Lack of infrastructure such as roads and rail denies producers access to markets. The problem is aggravated by the absence of electricity and water for production.
vi) Use of rudimentary and obsolete technology; Despite the existence of technologies elsewhere in the world, Uganda’s economic sector continue to experience major deficiencies in terms of technology use and advancement.
vii) Non-conducive work environment such as unhygienic and hazardous work environment which is risky to people’s lives.
viii) Weak labour market information system to facilitate efficient planning for the labour force.