Over 100 employees of the 12 maize mills in Buwenge town council in Jinja district blocked the Kamuli-Jinja highway this morning protesting a decision by the Uganda National Bureau of Standards-UNBS to seal off their plants over poor working conditions.
The protesters used tree logs, stones, and garbage heaps to block the road paralyzing traffic. A team of UNBS inspectors sealed off the maize mills on Wednesday after the operators failed to present their operating licenses and clearance from local authorities.
The inspectors also faulted the proprietors of the maize mills of failure to provide the casual laborers with protective gear such as gumboots, facemasks, overalls, and gloves, which exposes them to respiratory-related illnesses and accidents.
One of the UNBS inspectors who spoke to us on condition of anonymity, also accused the operators of cheating their unsuspecting clients by using counterfeit weighing scales to package processed maize floor and other grain by-products.
The inspector also accused the local political leaders of influence peddling, which has frustrated UNBS attempts to enforce standards largely in the small scales enterprise sector. The closure of the plants prompted the operators to pitch camp outside throughout Wednesday night.
Badiru Kasimba, one of the affected maize millers says that UNBS should roll out a massive sensitization drive so as to enlighten the masses about the standards rather than stealing off their plants, which disorganizse the smooth operations of their enterprises.
Monica Mufumbiro, another miller, says that she is currently servicing a loan and the inspectors could have partially closed the plants and give them deadlines to fulfill the required standards, instead of sealing of their plants.
The Kiira Regional Police Spokesperson, James Mubi, says that Field Force Unit police personnel have been dispatched to quell the protests and clear the highway for smooth traffic flow. Mubi says that the district security committee is planning to hold a harmonization meeting with plant owners, UNBS officials, and politicians to peacefully resolve the matter without disrupting other sectors.
About two years ago, UNBS ran messages on selected radio stations nationwide reminding maize millers on the need to ensure they operate within the minimum standards and secure certification. This came after Kenyan authorities banned maize imports from Uganda citing high aflatoxin levels.