We can’t ignore benefits of labour externalisation

Stuart Oramire

What you need to know:

  • Labour externalisation, if prudently managed, presents huge social and economic potential for the country.

Around December 2022, a one Fred Nshemereirwe posted on his twitter handle a false story claiming that a young lady working as a domestic worker (name withheld) had reportedly been killed in Saudi Arabia. This story went viral.
It later turns out that the same girl had a health problem and her employers supported her to return to Uganda and was received by her parents. Recently, there was another viral yet false story of a girl working as a domestic worker in the Middle East who had been cut open and her kidney removed. 

The girl in question actually had a medical condition that necessitated a minor surgery. She is now recovering from the operation with the support of her employers in Saudi Arabia.  Between these two sensational stories are a number of other false stories about migrant workers who work in the Middle East especially in Saudi Arabia. Most of these stories are posted on social media or in some online publications where one can easily get away with peddling negative stories.
This is not to claim that Uganda has not had fatalities among migrant workers. However, we cannot completely avoid fatalities in a population of over 160,000 migrant workers.

For the few loud voices creating false narratives to justify the banning of labour externalisation, what alternative policy proposals are they offering to create employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of Ugandans whose lives have significantly changed because of labour externalization?
The Government of Uganda is working with its partners at the bilateral level and local partners like Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) to address some of these challenges in the labour sector.
At the micro level, UAERA and the Private Recruitment companies work hand in hand with external partners to ensure that any distressed  migrant workers are given due assistance whenever they face challenges in the host countries. 

From purely a social- economic dimension, labour externalisation has created life changing opportunities for millions of Ugandans and the country at large. And numbers do not lie. For example, a  domestic worker who is externalised through licensed companies signs an official contract  that guarantees them  a monthly salary  ranging between Shs 900,000 to Shs 1.2M  translating into approximately Shs28 million annually. 
Other general migrant workers working as drivers, machine operators, security guards among others earn a monthly salary of around Shs2.5 million. These huge remittances contribute Shs 4.5 trillion ($1.1 billion) to Uganda as revenue to the Gross Domestic Product annually.

This is higher than coffee export receipts according to Bank of Uganda records. Besides the benefits of forex inflows, the Government of Uganda has gained from labour externalisation through Non-Tax revenues in the form of services like printing passports that collect more than Shs12 billion annually,  issuing Interpol certificates, Civil Aviation Authority.
Labour externalisation has enormous forward and backward linkages to other businesses in the private sector .
Labour externalisation, if prudently managed, presents huge social and economic potential for the country. 

The author, Stuart Oramire, Executive Director – Uganda Association of External Recruitment