The Ugandan government has renewed the bilateral labour agreement it entered into with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the export of domestic labour to the gulf country with what has been described as strict but better terms.
Addressing journalists on Thursday, the Minister for Gender and Labour, Betty Amongi said after protracted negotiations both governments agreed to come up with a better labour export deal, that will among others protect the rights of Ugandan workers in Saudi Arabia.
“In the new agreement, both parties are now obligated to establish a mechanism to deliberately resolve any emerging issues on the welfare and rights of domestic workers. It means the Kingdom of Saudi Arabi will put in place a mechanism either a committee or taskforce that will liaise with Ugandan counterparts to ensure if there is any emerging issue related to right of domestic workers they can meet and resolve it,”Amongi said.
In December last year, the Ugandan government suspended the bilateral labour export agreement with Saudi Arabia over the continuous mistreatment and torture of Ugandan migrant workers.
The agreement had been signed in 2017 but there have been several complaints of violation of the rights of Ugandan migrant workers, especially domestic workers.
Many of them have since been reported to have committed suicide over the mistreatment.
Previously, each employer in Saudi Arabia had their own employment contract handed over to the Ugandan migrant workers but according to Minister Amongi, this has been revised to provide for a standard contract.
“We now have a standard contract and nobody can come up with their own contract. We have agreed on terms and conditions in the standardized employment contract and each domestic worker leaving Uganda must have signed this contract because it provides mechanism to protect their rights,”Amongi said.
She noted that as part of the standard contract, employers will no longer be allowed to carry out any deductions from the salaries of their employees as has been before.
“Article 3(9) says that both parties are to take legal measures against employers and recruitment agencies for any violation of laws, rules and regulations in either country.”
“Government of Saudi will ensure employers respect the terms and conditions of the employment contracts
Ugandan domestic workers are given two-year contracts in Saudi Arabia that are renewable on expiry.
However, there has not been any clear provision in the agreement on how the contract can be renewed and, on many occasions,, employers have been forcing the Ugandan domestic workers to stay in the gulf country even without renewing their contracts.
This has seen many of the Ugandan girls raise alarm for being held hostage in Saudi Arabia.
According to the new agreement signed between the Ugandan government and its counterparts from Saudi Arabia, renewing of any contract for migrant workers will not be mandatory and will involve both governments.
“An employee wishing to renew contract must inform Saudi and Uganda recruitment companies and seek approval of the embassy in Riyadh. This provision is mandatory. The Ugandan migrant worker must first report either by phone to the Ugandan company that recruited her to say she wants to return home or continue working .The company will consent and then one in Saudi will also consent before the embassy in Riyadh approves.”
According to the minister, this will help the embassy inform parents of relatives of the Ugandan migrant worker in case of renewal of the contract.
Transfer of employees
One of the key issues previously raised has been Ugandan migrant workers who have been forced to work in areas not specified in their contracts.
It would happen that if a Ugandan girl is recruited to work as a maid at a home, she would later be forced to go work at another home .
Many girls have complained of being exploited in this arrangement.
However, in the new agreement, this will no longer be allowed.
“An employer wishing to transfer services of any employee to another employer is now obligated to obtain consent of the domestic worker and inform Ugandan and suadi recruitment agency before the girl is sent to another person.If you employ a Ugandan, you can no longer transfer the domestic worker to another person without her consent and without notification of Ugandan person that recruited and sent them to Saudi,”Amongi said.
According to the minister, the Saudi government is tasked to ensure the provisions of the new agreement are followed but noted that both countries will put in place a joint technical committee for monitoring the implementation.
At the same time, the Saudi Arabian online recruitment system (MUSANED) will be integrated with Uganda’s External Employment Management System EEMIS to strengthen migration data management, monitoring of migrant workers as well as eliminate manual clearance of migrant workers.
Labour companies speak out
The deputy chairperson of the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA)Ibrahim Karim Boogere who also doubles as the group chairman for KHM Recruitment Agencies welcomed the move saying it was long overdue.
“The signing of the bilateral agreement means business is now going to resume and the Ugandan workers who were supposed to move to Saudi Arabia will now move. We welcome the move,” Boogere said.
“The labour exportation sector is responsible for creating over 10,000 jobs every months of Ugandans who move abroad. This had been affected but the signing of the agreement means these will resume moving to Saudi Arabia.”
He said that the clause that stipulates that the employment contracts for Ugandan migrant workers are not renewed automatically on expiry will save the labour recruitment companies which have in the past been blamed for neglecting the plight of the Ugandan employees.
“Now the Ugandan government and the recruitment company will be notified before the contract is renewed and will know the whereabouts of the Ugandan employee. Previously, when the contracts expired, some of the Ugandan girls were forced to either renew or working forcefully against their will. This way we will be able to monitor them.”
The deputy chairperson of UAERA described the move as a wise decision by government to renew its labour agreement with Saudi Arabia as the country risked losing its position to other competing countries that export labour.
“Competing countries like Burundi and Ethiopia recently renewed their bilateral agreements. Kenya is exporting labour and South Sudan applied and this creates a tight competition. If the Saudi Arabian employer can pick from any of those countries, it was visionary for Uganda to renew its bilateral agreement so as not to lose the market. We appreciate the Ugandan market for this,”Boogere said.
At least 150,000 Ugandans are living and working in Saudi Arabia and 80% of these(120,000) are domestic workers.
Ugandans in the Middle East remit back home $1 billion annually and of this amount, $700 million is remitted by those in Saudi Arabia only.