The High court has declared illegal the attempted removal of Usher Wilson Owere as the chairman general of the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) by a section of the organization’s leadership.
In November 2022, a group led by NOTU secretary-general Peter Werike and deputy chairman general Stephen Mugole chaired a general council meeting in Kampala and overwhelmingly voted to dismiss Owere.
They said he was free to appeal to the general council at their next meeting (this) year. They accused him of dictatorship, failure to conduct meetings, and abusing his powers, among others. At the same meeting, Werikhe, also Bubulo West MP stepped down “willingly” following concerns from members including Owere, that it was wrong for one to be secretary general while also a serving MP.
Owere sought a judicial review of the process in the High court, calling for the declaration that it was illegal and violated the Labour Unions Act and the NOTU Constitution.
Justice Musa Ssekaana has now declared that Tom Amiti, the acting secretary general had no mandate to call a council meeting and that all the outcomes of the said meeting were null and void.
He also ruled that the consultative meeting convened by the minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development Betty Amongi on January 9 at which she recognized the new leadership was illegitimate.
Owere was represented by Okello Peter Jabweli and Emma Opio while Alex Tuhimbise and Henry Kurukayo represented the respondents. While the applicant filed final written submissions that were considered by this court, the respondents “failed or refused to file their submissions as directed” and the court proceeded to determine the matter.
“A declaration doth issue that the purported removal of the applicant from the office of chairman general of NOTU was unfair, unjust, malicious, irrational and illegal and contravenes the principle of fair hearing and natural justice,” he ruled.
He also directed the six respondents; Werikhe, Mugole, Bigirwa, Mauku, Bandaru, and Amiti to pay Shs 5 million each in damages to Owere, as a punitive measure against them. Court also granted Owere an injunction blocking the respondents from removing him from office in violation of the laws.
“A permanent injunction doth issue restraining the respondents and their agents from suspending and or removing the applicant from the office of chairman general of NOTU or carrying out any activities for and on behalf of the 1st respondent (NOTU),” reads the judgment.
The judge also nullified a consultative meeting on December 22 between Owere’s rivals and the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Betty Amongi, which gave them a go-ahead to meet on January 9 where resolutions would be made to dismiss or reinstate the suspended Owere.
According to him, the minister had no mandate, according to the laws, to cause the consultative meeting.
“The Labour Unions Act did not give the minister such a mandate to cause a consultative meeting that leads to the calling of an organ of NOTU. NOTU meetings are held by their Constitution and not at the whims of a minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development or any other person in the ministry,” he said, adding that all outcomes of the meeting were illegal.
Court was told that that meeting was called to make a memorandum of understanding on how Owere would be removed and what happens later, regarding the sharing of positions.
“It was indeed irrational since the movers of the illegal meeting were to benefit from the new positions after the successful organization ‘coup d’etat’,” he said.
The respondents were also adjudged to have failed to follow the rules of natural justice in their effort of removing the applicant. The body with the power to decide lawfully, like NOTU, cannot unlawfully proceed to remove the applicant without affording him a proper opportunity to state his case.
“Since the meeting was illegally convened by the 2nd (Werikhe) and 7h (Amiti) respondents then any resolutions arising therefrom cannot be of any legal effect and this would make everything void ab initio,” ruled Ssekaana.
This also made the election of Stephen Mugole, Richard Bigirwa, Moses Mauku, and Barbara Bandaru illegal, null, and void.
“A declaration doth issue that the purported election of the 3rd, 4the, 5th and 6th respondents respectively as acting chairman general, acting secretary general, acting treasurer general, and acting treasurer of NOTU at the unlawful meeting of November 15, 2022, was illegal, irrational and null and void.”