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A review of the decision of Engineer John Eric Mugyenyi Vs Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited: The break of a new dawn in employment Law in Uganda

By ALP Advocate
Ann Namara Musinguzi
on
June 17, 2019

On 30th July 2014, the Appellant’s contract with his Employer was terminated and in April 2015, he lodged a complaint with the labour officer citing unfair termination under Section 69 of the Employment Act 2006 and in that same complaint requested that the matter be referred to the Industrial Court since it raised a substantial question of law and the same was referred to the said Court.

INTRODUCTION:

The Appeal that was decided by the Court of Appeal in the case of Engineer John Eric Mugyenyi V Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (Court of Appeal Civil Appeal No. 167 of 2018) arose from a decision by the Industrial Court Vide Labour Dispute Claim No. 096 of 2015.

The brief facts of the Labour Dispute Claim and the subsequent appeal are that; Engineer John Eric Mugyenyi (Hereinafter referred to as “The Appellant) was employed by Uganda Electricity Generation Company Limited (Hereinafter referred to as “The Employer) as the Chief Executive Officer for a period of three years.

On 30th July 2014, the Appellant’s contract with his Employer was terminated and in April 2015, he lodged a complaint with the labour officer citing unfair termination under Section 69 of the Employment Act 2006 and in that same complaint requested that the matter be referred to the Industrial Court since it raised a substantial question of law and the same was referred to the said Court. During commencement of the hearing, Counsel for the Employer raised a preliminary point of law that the case was bad and barred by time since it had been filed, without the discretion of the Labour Officer, three months after the termination complained against. Counsel for the Appellant asserted that the preliminary point of law could not stand because it had not been raised in the pleadings contrary to Order 6 Rule 6 of the Civil Procedure Rules SI 71-1. In upholding the preliminary objection, the Industrial Court held that: The issue of limitation need not be pleaded and can be raised at any time. Secondly, the Labour officer had not exercised his discretion to allow the appellant's claim outside the time prescribed by section 71 (2) of the Employment Act.

The Industrial Court further held that section 71 (2) of the Employment Act was not absolute and was subject to the exclusive discretion of the Labour officer to admit the complaint out of time but such discretion had not been exercised and the complaint was filed out of time. Further, that the claimant caused the reference of the matter to the Industrial Court outside the provisions of section 5 of the Labour Dispute (Arbitration and Settlement) Act.

The Appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal on three grounds which are:

a.  The learned trial Judges of the Industrial Court erred in law when they made a finding that the point of law of limitation can be raised without being pleaded contrary to Order 6 rule 6 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

b.  In the alternative the claim before the Industrial Court was not time barred.

c.  The learned trial Judge of the Industrial Court erred in law when they interfered with the discretion of the Labour officer who admitted the appellants claim out of time.

d.   The learned trial Judges of the Industrial Court erred in law when they failed to make a finding that the point of law of limitation could only be raised by way of appeal to the Industrial Court pursuant to section 94 of the Employment Act.

FINDINGS OF THE COURT OF APPEAL:

The Honorable Justices of the Court of Appeal made a number of findings which are:

a.  That a point of law can be raised anytime even after pleadings have closed.

b.  That in regard to a limitation claim before a labour officer, a claimant who has filed out of time must plead exemption and give reasons as to why they should be exempted.

c.  That the provisions of the Civil Procedure Rules SI 71-1 do not apply to labour matters lodged at a labour office.

d.  There is no time limitation to a claim filed at the Industrial Court. The only limitation envisaged is the 3(Three) months period within which to file a claim before the Labour Officer under Section 71(2) of the Employment Act.

e.  That the said limitation period under Section 71(2) can be extended at the discretion of the Labour Officer only after the claimant has shown cause as to why it should be extended.

f.   That there is no limitation, even before the Labour Officer, for lodgment of claims that do not fall within the ambit of Section 71(1) of the Employment Act.[i]

g.  That orders for reinstatement of employment and or compensation under Section 71(5) of the Employment Act both arising from unfair dismissal can only be granted by a Court which the Justices defined to mean any Court of Judicature or Subordinate Court.A labour officer cannot grant such orders.

h.  That the labour officer’s jurisdiction is limited to infringements of the Employment Act and he can grant orders that the Employer complies with the Act. A labour officer may hear complaints arising from breach of a contract of service but these are secondary to his primary jurisdiction and cannot form a “stand alone” complaint.

i.   That a labour officer is only mandated to settle matters by mediation or conciliation.

j.   The role of the Industrial Court as a “Court of Reference” was firmly established.[ii]

IMPACT OF THE DECISION OF THE INDUSTRIAL COURT

a.  The labour officer’s powers have been restricted to mediation and conciliation. This is in essence going to create a lot of confusion because labour officers have in the past been carrying out adjudications and rightly so as enabled by Section 13(1) of the Employment Act. We are also cognizant of Section 93(2) of the Employment Act which the Honorable Justices of the Court of Appeal relied upon and which limits the powers of the labour officers to mediation and conciliation. However, with the Justices completely disregarding Section 13, the labour officers shall now be at cross roads in regard to whether Section 13 has now been annulled by the decision of the Supreme Court.

b.  Labour officers do not have powers to hear claims arising from unfair dismissal. These can only be heard by a Court which the Justices defined to mean any Court of Judicature. This in essence squarely returns employment matters to the domain of the Courts of Judicature which are already struggling with backlog and this defeats the expeditious resolution of employment disputes.

c.  The labour officers can only hear claims arising from the infringement of the provisions of the Employment Act. Any other claim arising from breach of the provisions of a contract of service are secondary to the labour officer’s primary objective and the labour officer does not have the jurisdiction to entertain such claims if lodged as “stand alone.” This decision of the Honourable Court appears to contradict Sections 12(1), 93(2),(3),(4) and (5) all of the Employment Act which clearly empower the labour officer to hear claims arising from the infringement of the provisions of the Employment Act as well as claims arising from breach of the provisions of a contract of service and clearly excludes them from hearing claims arising from tort.

d.  The Honorable Justices of Appeal finally settled the controversy surrounding the use and application of the Civil Procedure Rules in a matter before the Labour Officer. The Labour Officers and the Industrial Court have in the past “borrowed” from the Civil Procedure Rules as and when it suits them and a lot of confusion has arisen in this regard[iii]

e.  The limitation provided for under Section 71(2) of the Employment Act has been defined.

f.   The discretion of the Labour Officer to entertain claims filed after 3 months was also finally dealt with and clarity has been created in that regard.

CONCLUSION

Much as we welcome the decision of the Court of Appeal for offering clarity on many hitherto hazy areas, we would also like to point out that it has created a big problem in regard to jurisdiction of the labour officers, mainstream Courts entertaining certain employment complaints and also the role of the labour officers. These gray areas, if not addressed, shall further complicate the already complicated employment legal framework in Uganda.


[i]Section 71(1) of the Employment Act spells out the conditions that an employee must fulfil before they are able to lodge a complaint with the Labour Officer under that Section. The Subsection is to the effect that the employee must have been continuously employed by his employer for a period of at least 13 weeks before the date of termination. The Justices stated that employees who are employed for a less period are not bound by limitation.

[ii]See Section 8 of the Labour Disputes (Arbitration and Settlement) Act 2006.

[iii]See Post Bank V David BbosaLABOUR DISPUTE APPEAL NO. 001/2018(Arising from Labour Complaint No.  KCCA/CENT/LC/048 of 2017 at the Labour Office KCCA) where the Industrial Court as an Appellate Court upheld the preliminary objection raised by Counsel for the Respondent in regard to an Exparte Award that the Labour Officer had rendered and which was the subject of the Appeal. The Industrial Court stated that the remedy for a person aggrieved by an Exparte Award of the Labour Officer was to apply to the Labour Officer to set aside the award in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Procedure Rules SI 71-1.