In the late 1980s, most Ugandans worked outside the monetary economy, in part because the number of jobs in industry was dwindling and the value of Ugandan salaries was declining. Throughout the decade, official wages failed to keep up with the rising cost of living, and most wage earners were able to survive only because they had access to land and raised food crops. By the mid-1980s, typical average wages at the official exchange rate were only US$10 a month for factory workers, US$20 a month for lower-level civil servants, and US$40 a month for university lecturers. In the late 1980s, the converted value of these wages declined even further as the value of the shilling dropped. In addition, the decline in industrial production in the 1970s and 1980s had reduced the proportion of high-paying jobs. As a result, more industrial workers pursued black market activities in order to support themselves.
Upon seizing power in 1986, the Museveni government tried to improve the status of wage laborers. The 1987 RDP aimed to enhance the country's self-sufficiency by increasing the number of skilled workers in industry. During the late 1980s, the government initiated a number of programs to improve working conditions in industry and provide training for industrial workers as well as government administrators. The Occupational Health and Hygiene Department implemented several projects to minimize occupational hazards in industry and to improve workers' health care. The Directorate of Industrial Training coordinated several vocational training programs, and the Rural Entrepreneurial/Vocational Training Center was established at Bowa. In addition, the government renovated the Institute of Public Administration, which provided training for government employees, and in 1988 it undertook a Public Service Improvement Project to train local administrators. Makerere University also established several training programs in surveying skills, agriculture, environmental studies, pharmacy, and computer science.
A lack of reliable labor statistics hampered the Museveni government's planning efforts in relation to the labor force. To collect reliable data, the government implemented a labor survey in October 1986. The survey concentrated on the formal sector of the economy, assessing available skills, training needs, vacancies in the labor market, and training facilities. In September 1988, the International Labour Office (ILO) surveyed the informal economic sector to assess the potential for growth in this sector.
By the late 1980s, the government, which had become the single major employer in the country, experienced significant problems as a result of almost two decades of economic decline and lax accounting procedures. A major problem was the lack of an accurate count of public wage earners, and to meet this urgent need, the government conducted a census of civil servants in 1987. It discovered 239,528 government employees and a wage bill for the month of May 1987 of USh53.2 million. Teaching and related activities employed 42 percent of all government workers; about 10 percent of civil servants worked in health-related fields. The largest concentration of government workers was in Kampala, although they represented a surprisingly low 15 percent of all government employees. The remaining 85 percent worked in other towns and cities.
Low wage scales led to the second serious problem confronting the government--i.e., corruption and inefficiency in the public sector. Both in government departments and parastatals, charges of corruption were widespread and were often attributed to low earnings. The highest-paid civil servant, the chief justice, received only about USh7,000 a month in 1988 (roughly US$117 at 1988 exchange rates). Gross monthly average pay was USh3,127 (US$52) in government posts, but the lowest-paid civil servants received only USh1,175 (US$20) a month. Workers in parastatal organizations received a monthly wage averaging USh5,786 (US$96), and in the private sector, roughly USh7,312 (US$122). Such income levels explained why a 1989-90 survey showed that more than half of all Ugandans lived below the poverty line, defined by the government as a household income of USh25,000 a month (roughly US$49 at official 1990 exchange rates).
Then in an attempt to streamline the civil service, the government announced plans to eliminate 30 percent of the nation's civil service jobs, leaving about 200,000 people employed by the government. This plan was not implemented, however. A labor survey in 1989 revealed that more than 244,000 people still worked for the national government, in addition to those in parastatal organizations.
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