labour

Govt told “stop human trafficking; bring the Middle East Ugandan migrant workers home”

(Last Updated On: 24 August 2022)

“There are many Ugandan labour migrant workers in utter distress in holding/detention centres as well as prisons in the different countries in the Middle East…”


By Milton Emmy Akwam

Uganda – August 24, 2022: The high rate of underemployment in Uganda has forced many nationals to seek employment in the Middle East and other continents across the globe. 

With the unemployment rate standing at 2.94% in 2021, a 0.17% increase from 2020, 89% of Ugandan migrant workers are subjected to human trafficking, according to a study by Global Fund to End Modern Slavery.

Before Covid-19 hit the East African nation, the unemployment rate for 2020 was 2.77%. This was an increase of 0.84% increase from 2019.

Also, according to multiple reports, the number of migrant workers seeking employment in the Middle East from Uganda has been growing in the last 10 years. It rose to more than 21,612 in 2018, before dropping sharply in 2020 to 9,026 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is worth noting that, some of the labour exporting companies do their dealings illegally and some licensed by the government have been closed for ‘breaching labour laws.

A call by concerned Ugandans to the government

A group of people calling themselves “concerned and suffering Ugandans” in a communiqué dated August 20, 2022, have asked the government to bring back Ugandans from the Middle East.

“There are many Ugandan labour migrant workers in utter distress in holding/detention centres as well as prisons in the different countries in the Middle East. The exact numbers are not known but there are, for example, about 3000 persons in Al Awir Detention Centre, Dubai, according to sources that are corroborated by Hon Nkunyingi Muwadda –Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, based on a visit he conducted on the 18th-08-2022,” their letter reads.

It [the letter] added that the Kafala system that is meant to regulate labour in the Middle East is exploitative and predatory. The labour externalization policy which started in 2005 intending to create jobs has sadly morphed into human trafficking which the current regulatory frameworks have failed to curb. Labour externalization should be about human resource management, however, because it is mismanaged Ugandans are being sold into modern-day slavery.

The concerned team also quoted the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery report, and said: “89% of Ugandans were subjected to conditions consistent with definitions of human trafficking for example unethical recruitment conditions (no written contract, working 99-120 hours/week) and exploitation of workers.”

Further demands

We demand that the government streamlines the labour externalization policy through a parliamentary bill that addresses the gaps as well as some of the following recurrent problems.

Immediate repatriation of all immigrant workers in different holding/detention centres as well as intervention and resolution of cases of Ugandans in prisons in the Middle East.

Renegotiation of the salaries of migrant workers to match current labour market rates, including provisions for minimum wage and social protection.

Stopping the illegal human organ extraction.

Stopping the abuse, torture and exploitation of workers as well as ensuring that the perpetrators of these crimes are charged and prosecuted, whether in Uganda or the host countries.

Regulating recruitment agencies and ensuring compliance with agreed guidelines.

Ensuring that the recruitment of migrant workers, in particular, domestic service workers meets minimum qualifications to avoid deploying illiterate or semi-illiterate workers which inevitably puts them at risk of underperformance or labour dispute.

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Ensuring that the bilateral and multilateral agreements are mutually beneficial and guarantee the rights and welfare of Ugandan migrant workers.

Ensuring that the migrant workers have insurance as part of their welfare requirement that guarantees compensation in case of injury and repatriation in case of death or contract expiry.

They also want the government/ministry should ensure that there are mandatory site visits for verification of workers’ contracts, resolution of complaints and labour disputes as well as compliance with the terms and conditions of the contracts by the respective stakeholders.

“There should be Consular Officers/Labour Attaches to service the needs of the labour immigrants. They are to monitor the treatment of Ugandans, address the labour disputes, defective contracts as well as provide shelter to migrants in distress.”

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and is a crime against humanity, they said, adding, “We condemn it in the strongest terms.”

We, the citizens of Uganda reaffirm that the constitution protects migrant workers against slavery, servitude and forced labour.

We, therefore, demand the protection of the rights and welfare of migrant workers but above all, the punishment and prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking.

Labour Laws to be made, MPs divided

During a parliamentary session in May 2022, Workers’ MP Agnes Kunihira said she was going to introduce a bill which seeks to regulate labour recruitment agencies and provide for the rights and protection of migrant workers and casual labourers.

She said the Private Members Bill entitled the Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2022 will cure the inadequacies in the regulation of labour recruitment agencies which have led to the exploitation of workers.

“Migrant and casual workers are deprived of wage; they work under unhealthy conditions and suffer sexual exploitation. Therefore, amending the current law will guarantee their labour rights and protection under the Constitution and international labour laws,” said Kunihira as quoted by the Parliament website.

In his response, the Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Industrial Relations, Charles Engola Macodwogo who also doubled as the Oyam North MP, requested Parliament to halt Kunihira’s request and instead have his ministry introduce the bill which the same Parliament rejected.

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