By Betty Iyamuremye
Recently, the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development (MGLSD) took a bold bearing and cancelled the operations of three companies and suspended seven licenses of external labour recruitment agencies after having perpetually failed to meet the guidelines for externalisation of as aligned to the national legislative framework and the international labour and migration standards.
Ideally, the operators of labour recruitment agencies require specific skills and an understanding of human beings with their different needs and ambitions. Thus, they should be registered as a special category for the purpose of proper deployment of the migrants and not as private business. They should also ensure that their operations are not for profit making alone but are in line with the principles of human dignity and the benefits of the migrants. However, some of these agencies have persistently fallen short of these rather outward standards which has grossly impacted on the wellbeing of those who seek to work abroad, and in some incidences even turned fatal.
According to the 2016/17 Uganda National Household Survey, Uganda has in the previous three (3) years registered an increase in income poverty from 19.7% in 2013 to 27% in 2017 reason being the Ugandan economy can only absorb about 15% of the young people completing post-primary education and released onto the job market leaving the majority unemployed. The employment challenge has resulted into 70% of the labour force absorbed in the informal sector which remains insufficiently supported, not regulated and characterised with noncompliance with the labour and employment standards.
This has to a greater extent become a push factor for the mostly youthful Ugandans to tap in to the external employment in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and South Sudan to mention but a few. However, despite the tangible benefits of this opportunity, there are challenges of irregular migration (individual movements), recruitment of persons by un-licensed and unauthorized private recruitment agencies and risks to exploitation, trafficking, and forced labor, among others.
In fact, it was due to the several contraventions on the rights to decent work for the migrant workers, that compelled the Uganda government in 2016 to completely ban Ugandans’ travel abroad for domestic work. Additionally, MGLSD this year banned eternalization of labour to Oman after several cases of breach of the law and extreme distress subjected to the migrant workers in that country, notwithstanding that there are over 33,000 Ugandan still working from there.
Also, according to the MGLSD, there are over13,107 Ugandans working in Saudi Arabia since April 2018 after Uganda signed bilateral agreements (MoUs) with Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
One then would wonder why the persistent terror on human dignity in spite of Uganda having a substantive legal framework to deal with human trafficking. In September this year, the Kenyan security operatives busted out a suspected human trafficking racket, arrested 71 people of which 59 were Ugandans. These cases are just a tip of the iceberg as compared to the prevalent torture and human trafficking cases. Also, there have been efforts by both the government and other stakeholders including the Platform for Labour Action in curbing this vice including publishing the list of the external labour recruiters which stands at 101companies as at 20th June 2018, conducting of pre-departure courses for the potential migrants, sensitization of the recruitment agents and the training of the anti-trafficking Police and the Immigrations officers. In October 2018, while addressing the Pan African Members of Parliament, the Regional Labour Migration Expert at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) retaliated that the absence of good policies to govern movement of Labour has potential to give rise to xenophobia, discrimination and racism. I can’t agree more to this fact. He urged governments to provide pre-departure and post-arrival information to facilitate social integration and protections of the migrants.
However, since the rate of unemployment in the country grows by day, there has been a glaring exodus of Ugandans seeking employment elsewhere. This has also created another avenue of Ugandans establishing offices to deal with this high demand of external labour especially for the youthful. Nevertheless, according to the investigations by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) these agencies have been infiltrated by some unscrupulous individuals/companies such as soldiers, artistes, and a few pastors who are directly involved in the criminal business of trafficking young girls to foreign countries who take advantage of the weak policies and the porous borders through which the susceptible Ugandans are trafficked.
Be it as it may, externalisation of labour or recruitment agencies should not be demonized but instead the potential migrants could take advantage of those agencies with good repute and integrity. This therefore should be incumbent of every stakeholder to avail useful information on where these upright agencies can be accessed. And lastly, the government should also put in place be more stringent anti trafficking mechanisms at the porous borders where more of the illegal externalisation of labour takes place.
The author is the Communications Officer-Platform for Labour Action. @iyamuremyebetty