By Frank R. Wadidi
The perils of our young women and men placed as migrant workers in the Middle East have hit media time and again. While the sad narratives are that many were manipulated and unspeakably abused while hunting the desert dollar, there has hardly been a corresponding volume of claims before Uganda’s courts of law. One wonders whether the recruitment agencies have had clean hands entirely, or the aggrieved migrant workers have simply not known the available remedies.
Remedying the perils of a migrant worker should be as straightforward as asking the High Court to resolve these four questions in your favour as hereunder:
- Jurisdiction—Can a Ugandan Court competently hear a dispute arising from overseas employment?
- Cause of action—Does an aggrieved migrant worker have any actionable claim against anyone?
- Liability—Who is liable for the breach, manipulation, trafficking, etc?
- Government—Whether government is liable for the failure to protect?
The 1st question follows the argument that your perils will usually have arisen outside Uganda but, a Ugandan Court will nonetheless be competent to hear the matter. This jurisdiction is unquestionable when the recruitment agency was licensed in Uganda, the victim is a Ugandan citizen and the contract of overseas employment was signed here in Uganda though to be performed abroad. This is the spirit and letter of the Employment (recruitment of Ugandan migrant workers abroad) regulations, 2005.
To answer the 2nd question, you will have to show what right you had, which was violated and the person sued as being responsible for the violation. In court, we call this a cause of action. You may have one or more. It is probable that you will have a cause of action for breach of contract in respect of any unpaid wages. For the deception about the type of work you were being flown out to do, you will have a cause of action for being a trafficked person. You enjoy this broad protection under the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2009. Furthermore, you may have a cause of action for damages in respect of the mental anguish and humiliation you suffered.
Moving on to the 3rd question, a recruitment agency remains with equal responsibility over every migrant worker it places abroad to the extent of any complaints which may arise. This is the object of regulation 69(1) of the Employment (recruitment of Ugandan migrant workers abroad) regulations, 2005. It follows that for every wage that your overseas employer declined to pay, it is a breach of contract for which your recruitment agency is vicariously liable to pay. More importantly though, if you were deceived as to which work you were taken to do, you were trafficked and the recruitment agency is liable for the same. Additionally, for every exploitation or humiliation you are subjected to, it is a violation of your rights for which the recruitment agency can be obliged to atone. You shouldn’t shy away from dragging that recruitment agency to the High Court for reasonable compensation.
Last but not least, Government is enjoined by the regulations to monitor the compliance of recruitment agencies with their undertakings in connection with the issuance or renewal of the license. The regulations further oblige government to establish labour assistance centers at the airport and exit points like Elegu, Malaba, Mutukula, etc. These should assist migrant workers leaving the country in ensuring that there is no possible human trafficking of persons under the guise of labour externalization. Government will have failed in this broad statutory duty that is akin to responsible parenting if you were trafficked abroad by a licensed recruitment agency. The Attorney General, as government’s chief legal advisor, will thus be additionally responsible.
The author Frank R. Wadidi is a Postgraduate Bar Course student