Kampala – Uganda today joins the rest of the world to commemorate International Labour Day. This day is commemorated in appreciation of the daily contribution of workers to national development. It is also used as an occasion to heighten consciousness about the need to protect workers’ rights and remind workers of their responsibilities and obligations.
This year’s celebrations will be commemorated under the theme: “Enhancing Innovation for Increased for Employment Creation and Labour Productivity: A Sustainable COVID-19 Response”.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on economies around the world. Labour Markets have been severely impacted as a result of the containment measures. Workers faced the threat of acquiring the virus at work, but the measures put in place to contain the spread of the pandemic also occasioned workplace closures, loss of employment, reduction of hours of work, loss of wages, and economic inactivity. For example, at one time nearly 320,000 workers employed in the Tourism and Hospitality sector were temporarily laid off. In the education sector, about 600,000 workers were also out of work for some months.
Given that Labour income constitutes a substantial part of household income, the disruption in wage income, therefore, affected household welfare, constrained demand for goods and services, and contributed to the economy’s sluggish growth.
ENHANCING INNOVATION FOR INCREASED JOB CREATION AND LABOUR PRODUCTVITY.
The various challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should not be a cause for despair but a call to action. The history of mankind is punctuated by crises. Covid-19 is not the first of its kind. For example, between October 1918 and June 1919, there was an influenza pandemic in Uganda that claimed about 25,000 lives. (Uganda Protectorate Annual Medical and Sanitary Report 1919). In Europe, the bubonic plague pandemic (also known as the Black Death) which occurred between 1346 – 1353 claimed over 100 Million people.
No matter the scale of the pandemic or crisis, humankind has always overcome and emerged stronger. One of the factors that explain why humankind has continually overcome challenges like pandemics, epidemics and disasters is innovation. Innovation in this sense does not only mean developing of new products and services using high-tech but it includes adapting new ways of life, and doing things differently.
Uganda’s experience with the Covid 19 pandemic already demonstrates that the people who were able to innovate or adopt new ways of doing things were less affected by the effects of the pandemic. For example, alcohol factories that diversified into the production of hand sanitizers instead turned the misfortune into an opportunity to make money through the sale of sanitizers whose demand had increased. Furthermore, when public transport was suspended, Boda Boda riders switched from ferrying passengers to delivering goods in order to continue earning a living.
GOVERNMENT’S RESPONSE POLICY TO PROMOTING INNOVATION
Innovation requires both ingenuity of the mind and an environment that allows its continuous growth. Fortunately, in Uganda, the Government has already taken measures to create the necessary conditions for innovation to thrive. Some of these measures taken include;
i. Strengthening the teaching and learning of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Primary, Secondary and Tertiary education.
ii. Promoting Research in STEM by improving the remuneration of scientists.
iii. Providing Research Funds to Institutions of Higher Learning. For example the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund has received 90 Billion to support high impact Research and Innovations.
iv. Government has also provided funding under the National ICT Initiatives Support Program (NIISP) which will support at least 45 innovators or start-ups to receive Shs.7.39 Billion.
Besides, the Government has mainstreamed Science Technology and Innovation in Development planning. To this end, the Government, under NDP III, has committed to;
i. Increase the Global Innovation Index from 25.3 to 35.0;
ii. Increase Gross Expenditure on R&D as a percentage of GDP (GERD) from 0.4 percent to 1 percent;
iii. Increase business enterprise sector spending on Research and Development (percent of GDP) from 0.01 percent to 0.21 percent; and
iv. Increase the number of Intellectual Property Rights registered per year from 2 to 50.
A sustainable culture of innovation is built on a strong education system. The Government has accordingly increased funding towards the education sector.
The Government has earmarked funding to support the development of Science, Technology Engineering and Mathematics subjects that are key in driving productivity and innovation. The choice of this year’s theme seeks to underscore the important role that Innovation will play in supporting recovery from the effects of Covid-19.
In conclusion, it is hoped that this year’s theme: “Enhancing Innovation for Increased for Employment Creation and Labour Productivity: A Sustainable COVID-19 Response”, will stimulate public discourse and research on how innovation can be promoted in order to support the economy to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.