Case Note: Mugyenzi v Uganda Electricity Generation Co. Ltd. (Civil Appeal No. 167 of 2018)  UGCA 120 (18 April 2019)
The Court of Appeal has handed down a ground breaking precedent regarding limitation of actions in labour matters. In the above case, the appellant first filed a claim in the Industrial Court but was advised to go before the labour officer. He subsequently, filed a complaint before the labour though after 6 months. The Labour officer citing issues of law and fact, referred the matter back to the Industrial court. Before hearing the case, the respondent raised a preliminary objection that the claim is time barred having been filed after 6 months as per Section 71(2) of the Employment Act. The Industrial Court upheld the P.O thus the appeal.
On appeal, the Court of Appeal has decided as follows:
1. Whether Section 71(2) of the Employment Act is a limitation provision Section 71(2) is not a Limitation Period for commencement of an Action.
The reasoning is that limitation Period expressly provided by Parliament cannot be extended. This is contrary, to Section 71(2) which provides for extension of time to lodge a complaint.
Further, it was stated that limitation is a bar to an action but Section 71 prescribes time within which to lodge a complaint with the labour officer given powers to allow the same out of time. (3 months) That the Industrial Court erred to treat the provision as a limitation period.
2. Reference of matters to the Industrial Court
The Respondent in the trial court, faulted the Labour Officer referring the matter before expiry of the 4 weeks and failure to grant audience, to all parties.
The labour officer referred the matter on grounds that the summary dismissal was malicious, unfair, wrongful and unlawful. Secondly, whether the Appellant is entitled to general, special or punitive damages. COA held that indeed, the Labour officer has no jurisdiction to award such damages neither does he have jurisdiction to determine whether dismissal is malicious. His jurisdiction is limited to establishing whether a provision of the Employment Act has been breached. Therefore, the reference was tenable because the Labour Officer had no jurisdiction to deal with the complaint under Section 5.
3. Jurisdiction of the High Court & Industrial Court in Labour Matters
This decision settles all questions on jurisdiction of the Hight Court. The justices have held that a labour dispute can be filed in the High Court. It has further, stated that, the Industrial court has jurisdiction to adjudicate matters of law and fact arising from references. This will definitely change the labour industry and a new era for claimants. Technically, I can file matters directly to the Industrial Court provided they are outside the Labour Officer's jurisdiction.