Labour export companies under their umbrella body, the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) have accused government of neglecting its role of monitoring the welfare of Ugandans abroad, leading to their suffering.
A number of Ugandans in the Middle East, especially girls have always complained of poor working conditions that including mistreatment at work whereas others have had their internal body organs like kidneys removed.
Many of these have committed suicide over frustration at work.
However, speaking during the opening of the high level diaspora and labour externalization symposium organized by the Office of the President through the diaspora, UERA chairperson, Baker Akantambira said government has abrogated its role of monitoring the welfare of its citizens abroad and this has in turn left them with no one to superintendent over them.
He said that whereas labour export companies help Ugandans get jobs abroad, they are not capable of monitoring their wellbeing abroad, a job that can only be done by government.
“There is no integrated framework for the monitoring of the welfare of migrant workers. We have seen some countries like Philippines have put in place a monitoring mechanism for their migrant workers and is funded and taken care of by government but the same is not the case for Uganda. However, the Ugandan government has shifted this burden to individual companies yet this is not possible,”Akantambira said.
“You are well aware that a director of a company in Uganda cannot do much outside Uganda. The most he can do is making a telephone call to find out the wellbeing of the person they externalized. The legal framework in that country is a problem. A girl is in a house suffering, what can you do as a director of a company here in Uganda to save her? The monitoring framework should be national and government should do this.”
He noted that there is need for a deliberate policy and legal framework that will address the issue of monitoring the welfare of Ugandans abroad as soon as possible and that this should be done by the Ministry of Gender, Foreign Affairs , External Security Organisation and other government agencies other than putting the burden on individual labour export companies that don’t have powers to force employers of Ugandans abroad.
Uganda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2021 signed a bilateral agreement in which they agreed on mechanisms for orderly and safe labour export.
However, this is the only country with whom Uganda currently has a bilateral agreement in regards labour externalization.
The labour export companies also blamed government over absence of bilateral agreements with all countries where Ugandans are working, a situation they said is partly responsible for the plight of Ugandans in the Middle East.
“Ugandans are already in Oman, Kuwait, UAE and many other countries but our government doesn’t have bilateral agreements with these countries. This means Ugandans are working under unclear circumstances. It means follow up and monitoring of the employer’s actions is very difficult. The bilaterals should be fixed as soon as yesterday. Why does it take many years for a government to government to fix a bilateral,” Akantambira noted.
“If some Ugandans are not tracked well, especially in countries that don’t have bilaterals, they can be a security risk. Don’t be surprised a youth who was recruited as a driver going to UAE ends up in a neigbouring country joining the negative forces.”
The labour export companies also noted that in some countries where Ugandans work, the staff at embassies or consulates is not enough as well as poorly facilitated and consequently not motivated to work on the issues affecting Ugandans.
The UERA chairman also cited countries like Oman and Kuwait that completely don’t have any consulates for Uganda that would help monitor Ugandans but also help them in case of problems.
The Special Presidential Advisor on Diaspora Affairs, Amb. Abbey Walusimbi admitted that there isn’t proper monitoring for Ugandans in the diaspora but noted that this will soon be rectified.
“The president through his office of the diaspora affairs has intervened in that matter. The monitoring exercise had a problem but the President’s Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Gender have resolved to start the monitoring as a government. We can’t neglect our children who are employed in Middle East,”Walusimbi noted.
On bilateral agreements, he again admitted that the two year bilateral agreement doesn’t protect Ugandans but noted that it will be rectified when it is renewed in December.
“It is true this bilateral agreement doesn’t favor our people. For example it stipulates that a a Ugandan migrant worker should be allowed to have their phone but is silent on the punishment for the employer who violates this right. These are some of the things we shall rectify while renewing the agreement.”
He said government is ready to sign bilateral agreements with many other countries like Qatar which he said is ready.