Labour Externalisation amidst the covid-19 pandemic – Maseruka Sadat

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Labour Externalisation amidst the covid-19 pandemic

On the 28th of February, 2019, Hon. Arinaitwe Katambuka Rwakajara moved a motion seeking leave of parliament to introduce a private Member’s Bill titled The Externalization of Labour Bill. this was long overdue as there was an overflowing influx of Ugandans to the middle east without a stipulated regulation and owing to reports on social media and in the mainstream media as regards to the treatment of Ugandan migrant workers most especially in the Middle East, it is justifiable if one referred to the Bill.

As the nation was still grappling with organizing the labour externalization industry COVID-19 struck and a lot was put on halt as there was increased maltreatment of Ugandans in these countries and it was discovered many did not use the right procedures while seeking employment, this was according to research done by the Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs (UPFYA) which affirmed that 70,000 Ugandans of whom more than 64% are youth have been recruited as workers into some countries in the Middle East while 50,000 of the workers sought jobs on their own as it December 2018.

Impact of COVID-19 on migration and labour externalization
Migration is one of the three components of that constitute population change, only third to high birth rates and mortality rate. People migrate for different reasons which may vary from person to person by due to the pandemic there has been a drop in the numbers of people migrating.

As Africa’s population continues to grow while the job market shrinks, labour externalization will continue to emerge as the most feasible way out of the unemployment conundrum.

Thus Labour migration is an inevitable phenomenon given the high unemployment rates most and due to the collapse of many medium and small scale businesses in East Africa as a result of the pandemic, according to global business growth index there has been a further drop in emerging businesses from 23% in 2019 to 32% in 2020, this show the increased fall in job creation hence making labour externalisation a necessary evil.
Under payment

Recent reports from Platform for Labour Action have shown that most domestic workers are underpaid, overworked and at times summarily dismissed without adequate compensation. In fact, in most Ugandan households, the highest salary most housemaids get is sh500,000 per month translating into a measly sh. 6m annually. Worse still, some households illegally employ underage girls who are overworked and underpaid.

This situation became worse with loss of job due to COVID-19 as many people who were hit by the pandemic resorted to seeking for employment in the Middle East

Forced labour
In extreme cases, some of the migrant workers that work as maids and house helps whose contracts had ended but with no means of travelling back to East Africa due to grounded flights where by circumstances forced to continue working without clear terms of reference. Many ended up being mistreated and some not paid for that period of time, the restricted movement and lack of clear data about the number of Ugandans working in the middle east as many under declare the reason for travel made it difficult to trace and repatriate.

Data from the World Bank about economic migration and remittances indicates that the number of economic migrants has increased, from 250 million worth $613 billion worldwide but fall to $415billions worldwide.

Mental illness and stress
According to the journal of health management, the number of migrant workers that has suffered from mental illness and stress has been on record high. This was due to restricted movements, discrimination, uncertainty about their jobs and income and fear of how the pandemic is to impact on their families back home. Mental illness affects one’s productivity levels and if not noticed and treated can lead to suicidal tendencies (according to Global voices).

Social stigma & discriminatory treatment

Many host countries and employers in Asia and Middle East subjected foreign workers especially from Africa were discrimination at work places and in housing facilities during the heighted period of the pandemic, this was according to the international labour economics but due to weak labour laws and lack of recognised rights for migrant workers, many ended of being homeless.

In conclusion if there is a time when Uganda needs a bill to organise, formalise and regulate the labour externalisation of labour industry is now for this bill will help to:
regulate the export of labour from Uganda,
ii) provide issuance of licensing to recruitment agencies,
iii), impose obligations on the recruitment agencies and foreign principles,
iv) provide for the repatriation of Ugandan migrant workers,
v) provide for the rights of Ugandan migrant workers and
vi) empower the Minister to enter into bilateral labour agreements with qualifying countries and for related matters.

Maseruka Sadat +256775521755
Chief-economist, Vision East Africa