Labour agencies face Shs400m fine in draft law on migrant workers

Wednesday December 04 2019
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Seeking opportunities. Youth prepare to go the United Arab Emirates for employment in 2016. FILE PHOTO

Parliament is processing a Bill which proposes a Shs400m fine or a five-year-jail term to officers of a labour recruiting agency for every harassed migrant worker.
The proposal is contained in The Employment (amendment) Bill, 2019.
The private member’s Bill presented yesterday by the Workers’ MP, Ms Agnes Kunihira of National Resistance Movement (NRM), also proposes that “agencies should bear full and complete responsibility for all claims and liabilities which may arise in connection with the use of the licence under which they operate.”

The Bill adds: “A recruitment agency shall ensure that recruitment fees charged by the agency is not deducted from the remuneration of the worker. A person who contravenes this provision commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 20,000 currency points (Shs400m) or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.”
This provision applies to migrant workers (foreigners working within Uganda).

A currency point is equivalent to Shs20,000. Where the recruitment agency arranges for employment of Ugandan citizens out of Uganda, cases of abuse, sexual harassment and related incidents of torture and mistreatment attract a fine of Shs200m or a five-year jail term.
The Bill also requires every recruitment agency to put in place measures for obtaining at least quarterly updates from the employees sent to work outside Uganda.
The proposals come at a time when the country is witnessing increasing cases of abuse of domestic workers as well as Ugandan labourers working abroad.
The Employment (amendment) Bill, 2019 seeks to amend the Employment Act 2006 to provide for fair remuneration of employees.

The Bill specifically makes provisions for the regulation of employment of domestic workers and casual employees in Uganda so as to improve their working conditions; to provide for compulsory registration and licensing of recruitment agencies for domestic workers and non-manual labourers.
It also seeks to provide for explicit formula for calculation of severance pay; to remove the conditions attached to payment of migrant workers in Uganda and Uganda migrant workers abroad. The proponents argue that the present law is bogged by defects, which “only defines a casual employee.”
“The Act does not legislate or make provisions on employment of casual employees [and] lacks substantive provisions to support the enforcement of the regulations on casual employment,” Ms Kunihira said.

The defect, according to the lawmaker, has resulted in exploitation of the labour force, depriving such workers of the rights enjoyed by other employees.
“Repatriation shall be calculated at a minimum compensatory rate of 7km to one litre of fuel (petrol) from the work town to home town in addition to Shs500,000 for facilitation to home village or domicile,” she said.
The deputy Speaker, Mr Jacob Oulanyah, referred the matter to the House Committee on Gender.

Employers of migrant workers shall be required to ensure that the worker has a valid work permit, keep a register of all migrant workers employed at the work place and file annual returns to the district labour officer as well as repatriate such a worker on the expiry or termination of the contract of service.
Employers who fail to comply by this provision risk a Shs20m fine or a three-year-jail term.
Employers will also be required to meet the cost of repatriating their employees especially those who reside at least 50km apart.