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Regulating the labour export industry

COMMENT: By Anna Adeke Ebaju

Exporting labour could provide an economic lifeline for many families in a poor country, but they need protection

Exporting labour is perhaps one of the most delicate undertakings any country can indulge in, especially if its policy makers appreciate it from the purview of a quick fix to the biting unemployment ravaging impoverished countries in the third world. It is, for all intents and purposes, modern day slavery euphemised as human trafficking and a necessary evil we have to contend with.

Now that the evil is with us, we must not tire of engaging the government at all levels to address the plight of our youngsters whose innocence and first interaction with the employment world is defiled on the altar of inhumane employers and destructive capitalists.

In Uganda the public outcry has been loud enough to catch the attention of Parliament though the Executive continues to drag its feet on the matter. The government, for example, put in place (Rules and Regulations Governing the Licensing, Recruitment and Employment of Ugandan Migrant Workers Abroad, Statutory Instrument No. 62, 2005) which, from the continued plight of Ugandans, is not implemented to the letter.

The plight of our migrant labour force continues to wallow really low on government’s list of national challenges to tackle including, for instance, the list of Bills that the government plans to present in the 10th Parliament. Nevertheless Parliament has taken on the matter and as happened recently, the issue of Labour Externalization topped the list of matters before Parliament.

Establish a fund where both the Government and those applying for Labour Exportation Licenses contribute

Mere show of concern is, however, not the solution. Parliament has to go on and enact a law to regulate labour exportation. This law, in my suggestion to be aptly titled: (Ugandan Migrant Workers Employment Bill) is needed as early as yesterday to insulate our youth, the bulk of victims most affected by Unemployment and should address the following:

  • Spell out in clear terms the roles of all Government entities both within the Country and the foreign posts as regards the handling of Ugandan Migrant Workers.
  • Provide clearly for the signing of Bilateral agreements with Receiving Countries which are not signatories to ILO and International/Regional Human Rights Instruments.
  • Establish a board to handle all matters of Migrant Ugandan Workers such as giving legal assistance, licensing labor Exporters/recruiters, and handling of overseas workers welfare administration, running a resource center that offers counseling services, human resource development, orientation of returnees and monitoring their daily situations.
  • Run a shared system of Records between Uganda and Receiving Countries with master lists of departing/arriving Ugandans, an inventory of pending cases abroad involving migrant Ugandan workers including those serving prison sentences, statistical profiles on Ugandan Migrant workers, blacklisted labour exporters, lists of Labour and Human Rights Instruments where the receiving countries are signatories, and lists of overseas posts which can render help to Ugandans Overseas.
  • Establish a fund where both the Government and those applying for Labour Exportation Licenses contribute. The purpose of this fund should be for repatriation of Migrant Ugandan Workers, legal assistance abroad, to run a migrant workers loan which can be given to finance pre-departure arrangements, family assistance of migrants, as well as return assistance to Migrant Workers.
  • Penalise illegal exportation of Labour with gravity equal to human trafficking.
  • Establish a Labour office at all our foreign posts and ensure that we have Consular offices in all the Countries/federal states where we are exporting labour.
  • Spell out forms of Labour in which Ugandans getting foreign employment under it should engage in and the lowest remunerations they should be paid.
  • The law should also not be in such a manner so as to govern expatriate Ugandan Labour.

For this law to be effective it should address the five areas of pre-departure arrangements, arrival and condition of workers in the receiving country, repatriation and return of those who find conditions unfavorable, the livelihood of returnees, and the process of licensing labour exporters. If such a water tight law is enacted I believe there will be enough safeguards in place to protect the innocent and needy Ugandans seeking employment abroad. No doubt this will contribute tremendously to our economy more meaningfully.

There is every reason for parliament to put in place this law looking at Philippines as a case study where more than 7.3 million Filipinos (eight percent of the population), currently reside abroad and 1990 to 2001, “official recorded remittances alone averaged 20.3 percent of the country’s export earnings and 5.2 percent of GNP, providing a lifeline for many families in a poor country that saw little economic growth in several of those years.” In fact they established the Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to provide contract labour directly to foreign employers, maritime agencies, and governments essentially bringing the work of Filipinos abroad under the authority of the Philippine government so that, “workers and recruiters enter into a contract that is enforceable under Philippine law.” The Philippines offers best practice solutions to harnessing labour exportation. So shall we listen to the cry of our young people and adopt some of them?


Anna Adeke Ebaju is the National Female Youth MP and Shadow Minister of Youth and Children in the Parliament of Uganda;


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