Lillian Keene-Mugerwa is the managing director of International Employment Linkages (IEL). She spoke to the Independent’s Agnes E Nantaba about externalization of labour as a solution to Uganda’s unemployment.
What key elements encompass your management philosophy?
The whole issue in management waters down to value because even if you are self employed or employed by someone else, you need to have goals and work to achieve them. Even as a manager, you have got to add value to the people you manage so that you get quality work. My approach as a leader is a mixture of both delegation and doing some of the work on my own.
What is your assessment of Uganda’s labour export market and state of Ugandans working abroad?
Our labour market has just 10 % that is really good, 20 % mediocre and 70 % to struggle with. However, the issue still lacking in them is being innovative and self driven which wasn’t the case before when graduates were few with more available jobs. Now with globalization and competition, innovation and efficiency are part of the menu. Therefore we need to teach young people critical thinking on how to do things differently without moving outside the goal post. Even a simple business requires critical thinking especially on value addition for one to be able to thrive and survive in a competitive market. It is surprising to note that Ugandan who have gone through safe migration to work abroad have portrayed a good image for Uganda as hard working, speak good English and are goal oriented.
What do you think is the biggest reasons Ugandans leave for work abroad?
Better wages and addressing unemployment. But also people who have social issues like women going through difficult times of divorce or separation choose to work abroad as they rethink on the way forward. There are also people who have been laid off from companies yet need income.
How viable is going to work abroad as an employment alternative?
You cannot address unemployment using only one strategy. It has to be a combination of different strategies and externalization is just one of them. Skilling, job creation internally, innovation and entrepreneurship are others but it depends on the strategies and opportunities available at the time. We may want to develop local industries but the cost of production needs to go down because we can’t produce goods and compete when the cost of production is high. Even the wages must allow workers to meet the basic needs. So it’s not about creating jobs but what kind of jobs and for what kind of work force.
What is your comment on claims about abuse and torture of girls who go to work as maids in Middle East countries?
We can’t rule out the fact that there has been abuse of maids but the most important point to note is that those who have moved and had challenges, did it on their own through illegal arrangements. However, the government has now put in place monitoring mechanisms to ensure that working conditions especially in Jordan and Saudi Arabia are made safer for Ugandans.
What are the right channels to use if you want to travel and work abroad in a safe and protected way?
The first step is to move through a licensed recruitment agency because government knows the business we do but also every person whether male or female to move out of Uganda is vetted and cleared by Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development. We also take candidates through the cultures of the country they intend to work in and the laws. Even after they have left to work abroad, we still monitor them together with the embassies and different offices of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies to know where they are. We even have numbers to call in case of emergence, like in Saudi Arabia.
How do recruitment agencies like IEL keep track of the people who leave Uganda to go and work abroad?
We make quarterly monitoring visits in the countries where we have deployed to be able to know how they are faring. And in case of workers strikes, our counterparts in the respective country resolves the issue. For housemaids, there is more in-depth monitoring especially with the lifting of the export ban .We do follow up together with the embassy and government.
How best can companies like IEL work with government to streamline procedures for externalization of labour as a way of protecting Ugandans who go to work abroad?
Recruitment agencies are organized under Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies which currently has 52 members and we have a code of conduct. We are working closely with the ministry of labour to inform and shape policies. For instance, we contributed to having the monitoring mechanism in Saudi Arabia and Jordan where housemaids will be deployed. It will be a phased approach based on where the government signs bilateral agreements and where the mechanisms are easy to put in place and enforce.
What is the future outlook of Uganda’s labour export market?
As long as our family sizes remain big, it is unlikely that the economy will absorb all the labour, and that means more will have to seek jobs abroad. The beauty about Uganda is that we speak some of the best English across Africa. We only need to market our skilled labour such that we can move into more professional jobs.