Labour externalization in Uganda is here to stay

Abdallah Kayonde

What you need to know:

These workers are obviously on high demand in the Middle East but stakeholders in Uganda need to set up a minimum standard wage for migrants

It was very unfortunate when Mr Okello Oryem came out last week during an interview on NBS TV , to wonder why girls are still trekking to the Middle East in search of work, in spite of the increasing cases of torture and deaths.

Mr Oryem, who is the Minister of Foreign Affairs, insisted that Uganda is a rich country with lots of opportunities for creating wealth, like farming. The high levels of unemployment and poverty in Uganda seem to mean nothing to Mr Oryem. It is true that our country is rich. However, it is the responsibility of government leaders to create and support young people in making these opportunities viable.

Clearly, the Ugandan job market cannot accommodate all the labour that is churned out every year from universities and tertiary institutions. We also have many unskilled Ugandans who drop out of school at all levels of the education trajectory and cannot find financially productive work.  This leads to an overwhelming number of Ugandans living in poverty both in the rural areas and in the urban areas.

The external labour program therefore presents many opportunities and a lot to offer these desperate young Ugandans that are in need of jobs. Launched in 2005, labour externalization in Uganda is a necessary evil. Since then, we have 225 licensed recruitment companies with over 600,000 migrant workers who have been deployed abroad subsequently.  The minimal wage or salary for these people is about $270 (Shs 1m) per month. This means they are able to earn a gross income of Shs24m, some of which is sent back home to take care of their people. The Account Information Service Provider report indicates that labour externalization contributes Shs 4.5 trillion as revenue to the Gross Domestic Product, a figure which is higher than coffee export proceeds.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that over 90 cases of domestic violence, 257 cases of illness, and 88 deaths are reported every year. These cases are possibly the reason why Oryem thinks that Ugandans are better off not going to the Middle East. Hon. Oryem needs to understand and support the process of streamlining the labour externalization program.

Most of these cases are happening because there is lack of a proper working relationship among the stakeholders in the migration industry. There is a need to align all stakeholders in the Migration industry to come and work together and not as enemies of each other so that we can clean up our businesses.

Young Ugandans should not be discouraged from traveling abroad for work as a solution to the violence that is happening to Ugandan girls working as domestic workers in the Middle East. As mentioned earlier, all stakeholders in the migration industry, that is, recruitment agencies, the migrant workers, government and the public need to work on a strategy that will see Ugandans benefitting from domestic work abroad.

These workers are obviously on high demand in the Middle East but stakeholders in Uganda need to set up a minimum standard wage for migrants. This will ensure that they are remunerated handsomely for their work.

There is also a need for proper monitoring structures to track each and every Ugandan working in these countries. Uganda wouldn’t be the first country to do this. The Philippines also have domestic workers in the Middle East but they have structures that ensure the girls are monitored, paid well and paid on time.

It is also important that an investigation is launched into these torture cases. We need to find out the root cause of these problems and ways in which these can be addressed. A welfare fund for these

All these recommendations in solving the challenges around labour externalization cannot be handled without the government being at the forefront. Currently, the business is run by capitalists who are mostly selfish and greedy. This will discourage Ugandans from taking advantage of this opportunity and at the same time, the government stands to lose the income from the labour externalization program.

Abdallah Kayonde, Executive Director

Uganda Migrant Workers’ Voice [email protected]