By Uganda Online Media
Kampala: There has been a lot of media talk from critics of labour externalization sector regarding the welfare and monitoring of migrant workers from Uganda, especially for those externalized to Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
They claim that the government of Uganda is deliberately selling young Ugandans into slavery. They are therefore calling for total ban on the externalization of labour. This call is being made by Migrant workers’ voice organization, a non-profit making organization headed by a one Kayonde Abdullah.
According to a petition by Migrant Workers Voice to Uganda human rights commission and copied to the parliamentary committee on labour, gender and social development, Speaker of Parliament of Uganda among others that were seeking for their pronouncement and a temporary injunction into the externalization of Ugandan domestic workers to the Middle East.
This is mainly to Saudi Arabia and Jordan. This is apparently due to grave human rights breaches sighted in relation to workers’ rights as guided by the world Labor organizations’ standards.
The petition seeks to address those mentioned challenges through a ban. However, it doesn’t clearly indicate the dangers of the ban such as accelerated human trafficking. This is because whoever will be traveling within the period of the ban will not be cleared by the government.
It’s a known fact that when a ban is put on licensed recruitment companies, it doesn’t mean that Ugandans will stop traveling abroad for work. Additionally, the status of those that have already been externalized through these licensed companies, who take care of them when the companies they went through are no longer respondents? Such and more need to be looked into before one proposes a ban.
Therefore, they should think wisely to come out and give clarity on a few issues about labour externalization sector since no one either from the government, private sector, or the agitators of the ban seems to be giving an answer on who will benefit from the ban in case it takes place.
The challenges pointed out were first of all noted in the recent press statement by the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development Hon. Betty Among. This was on her return from Saudi Arabia where she and a delegation including the ministry technical team and the Ugandan licensed recruiters.
Saudi Arabia’s ministry of labour representative spent a week trying to assess and analyze the situation on the ground.
In her press statement, the minister stressed that she had led a team of delegates to assess the Bilateral labour agreements signed between the government of Uganda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
They also had to ensure that the requirements of the Employment (Recruitment of Ugandan migrant workers) Regulations, 2021 are being enforced as well as appraise the condition and general welfare of Ugandan migrant workers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia among other key issues.
Hon. Among also stressed that findings from her visit indicated challenges like reported breaches of terms and conditions in migrant workers contracts and non-enforcement of sanctions on perpetrators cited include,
Denial of access to adequate medical services by employers,
Incomplete or non-payment of wages
Denial of access to a telephone, internet, and other communication services
Confiscation of identification documents by some employers and agencies and,
instances of torture and mistreatment of domestic workers among others.
The minister suggested possible solutions that are supposed to be implemented as soon as possible to avert the situation.
The call for the ban, therefore, comes after the minister’s visit and seems to be irrelevant and diversionary.
The agitators of the ban on labor externalization seem to be driven by self-interests and emotions. They should instead focus on how to improve the sector to a level that can equally benefit all players including the government as the key benefactor.
The labour externalization sector is estimated to be fetching over $900m remittances annually from the Middle East alone. It’s also offering employment opportunities to over 140,000 Ugandans to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alone. These are working in different categories across the expansive terrain.
The problem of unemployment is estimated to be between 64%-70%. This is because about 400,000 youth are released annually into the job market to compete for approximately 9,000 available jobs.
This, therefore, means that if they streamline the sector well, they can manage this program to the expectation of all parties. This can alleviate the unemployment situation in the country. It can also bring in remittances that help to improve the livelihoods of the people.
The Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) 2020-2021 report indicated that approximately 350,000 Ugandans work in the Middle East doing both domestic and non-domestic jobs. Of course, the number keeps on increasing. Evidence has shown that if they ban or don’t regulate strictly, this movement can degenerate into the vice of human trafficking.
This is due to desperation caused by surging levels of unemployment back home. The ban will also fuel up the numbers of Ugandans leaving the country illegally under nobody’s watch.
Biased and Desperate Call for a Ban
The information obtained from reliable sources also indicates that there could be much more than what meets the eye behind the call for a ban on labour externalization. This is because the agitators of the ban themselves are aware of the risks like facilitating human trafficking and other related challenges.
There is also pinning evidence indicating that proprietors of Migrant Workers Voice Network had proposed to UAERA in 2020 to be awarded a contract of Monitoring framework, Management and Support for domestic migrant workers in the Middle East.
They failed to secure hence resorting to blackmail and saboteur moves. With calls for a ban on labour externalization without stressing who is likely to benefit from the ban.
With such glaring facts at hand, therefore, I find it very normal to conclude that this call for an injunction or ban is not being pushed in good faith for the benefit of the government, un-employed Ugandans, or players in the labour externalization sector.
Rather, it’s a self-seeking move to sabotage the sector and should not be given the desired attention. Instead, the government and stakeholders should direct focus to improve the sector for the benefit of all those involved.
This is an opinion article from UAERA.