KAMPALA – Rights activists are proposing strategies to be adopted to promote the safety of Ugandan migrant workers in the Middle East.
The proposal follows a backdrop of deaths and reported human rights violations involving Uganda domestic workers in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – UAE.
Among the most recent deaths involved Peter Kizza in his 20s from Fort Portal. Kizza reportedly died last week after being involved in a fatal road crash in Kuwait. Earlier in December 2022, the body of Esther Nabumati, 30, was discovered dumped by the roadside in Saudi Arabia.
The activists group including Kyeyo Initiative Uganda, Overseas Workers Agency, Migrant Workers Voice, Migrant Workers Network Association, Associations of Ugandans in the United Arab Emirates – UAE, and Migrant Workers Protection Point, among others are demanding the establishment of the Migrant Workers’ Social Welfare Fund; emergency repatriation plan; medical insurance; diversification of labour markets beyond the Middle East; revision and improvement of the existing bilateral labour agreements, among others.
Kenny Olooka – the Chief Executive Officer of Kyeyo Initiative Uganda implored government to involve migrant workers, and labour recruitment agencies in designing Bilateral Labour Agreements – BLA. For long, the agreements have been designed between the Government of Uganda and the Association of External Companies.
Overseas Workers Voice Uganda – OWVU Chief Executive Officer, Marriam Mwizza, pointed out that re-negotiation of better bilateral agreements with the Arabian Peninsula Countries was key towards the abolition of practices like the ‘kafala’ system that gives private citizens and companies almost utter control over migrant workers.
The rights’ group proposes that all migrant workers should be allowed to join registered labour unions – locally and in the respective overseas countries where they are deployed for proper representation whenever disputes and rights violations arise in line with the ratified International Labour Organization – ILO, 2005.
Flavia Kabahenda, the Chairperson of Parliament’s Committee on Gender Labour and Social Development noted that work hazards facing Ugandan migrant workers could be ended by the externalisation of well-trained workforces that can live up to the expectation of their employers both at home and abroad.
Aggrey David Kibenge, the Permanent Secretary in the Gender Ministry said government was undertaking several measures to improve the working conditions of domestic workers in the Middle East.
He identified some of the measures as negotiating bilateral labour agreements in Europe, increasing labour attaches in Gulf Countries and digitalising monitoring systems among others.
He observes that migrant workers must avoid sneaking out of the country because most of those who do so without following proper and official channels end up as victims of circumstances.
Kibenge noted that when the Ministry officials visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – the most preferred destination for Ugandan migrant workers for bilateral talks, they discovered that over 60,000 workers were employed there yet their records did not officially exist back home.
The government in 2017 signed a five-year labour agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aimed at promoting the welfare and rights of migrant workers. However, in December 2022, the Ministry of Gender suspended the agreement following widespread human rights violations.
In 2020, the Kyeyo Initiative Uganda was involved in the repatriation of 20 bodies of migrant workers. Separately, Overseas Workers Voice Uganda – OWVU, another advocacy group, repatriated 54 bodies of migrant workers from the Middle East between August 2019 to 2022.
The 2021 Uganda Human Rights Commission – UHRC report revealed that 28 Ugandan migrant workers, the majority of whom are women, died in the different Middle East destination countries where they were serving as domestic workers.
From migrant workers, the government annually collects over Ugx10b in non-tax revenue in the Middle East, which is wired directly to the consolidated account controlled by the Uganda Revenue Authority – URA. Foreign recruitment companies are charged $D30, an equivalent of Ugx110, 000 for each job order.