By Brian K Katabazi
As Uganda is preparing to celebrate the National Youth Day, the levels of unemployment remain the most hurting challenge in the country and especially among the young people. Despite the general reduction of unemployment rates in the country, the same rates among the young people/youths have continued to grow. The country’s levels of unemployment reduced from 3.04% in 2007 to 2.1% in 2017 as per the ILO statistical report 2017. The same report indicates that youth unemployment was at 2.91% as of 2017 from 4.53% as of 2007 for ages between 15 years and 24 years. Only youths compose 64% of the unemployed Ugandans of the total unemployed persons in the country (UBOS-Report 2012). And for over the years, unemployment has remained a major constraint to the country’s economic growth.
Globally, efforts to reconcile various forms of unemployment in low developed countries (LDCs) with shortage of labor supply in most wealth ones are yielding positives results with more tolerance to free movement of laborers. According to World Bank, the latest data about economic migration and remittances indicate that the number of economic migrants has increased to 250 million worth $613 billion of remittances worldwide. Top recipients such as India ($69billion), China ($64billion), Philippines ($33billion), Mexico ($31billion) have registered significant GDP growth as a result. Remittances flowing in to both middle and low income countries reached $466bn in 2007, an increase of 8.6 percentages over $ 429bn in 2016. Of $38billion for the entire sub Sahara, Nigeria received the biggest share equivalent to 78% (22billion). Same source indicates that Uganda received $ 1.37billion (Shs5 trillion) in 2017 compared to $ 1.1bn (4.2 trillion) in 2016. Faced with acute involuntary unemployment and under employment, and copying from exemplary nations that have done exceptionally well labor export, some innovative and profit oriented Ugandans have established formal and legal mechanisms to export our labor surpluses to foreign markets in large numbers to access such jobs. Today, more than ninety labor firms licensed by ministry of gender have assisted more Ugandans to work abroad than before. Ministry data indicates that since 2005, more that 80,000 Ugandans have been recruited, trained and deployed abroad under Middle East Consultants, the leading labor exporter in Uganda with average number of 1,250 workers annually. Reports from Bank of Uganda on similar issues don’t differ from the one of World Bank so much as it also confirms that remittances to Uganda have increased from $ 1.6 billion (Shs 4.6 trillion) in 2016, to $ 2.0bn (Shs 7 trillion in 2017.
All this proves how lucrative labor export industry has become in Uganda. The lucrative nature of the industry has also attracted unlicensed firms which smuggle vulnerable Ugandans abroad who end up in hands of unscrupulous foreign employers that subject them to all sorts of abuses ranging from sexual exploitation and unexplained deaths as reported in sections of local media and social media. Pessimists magnify and exaggerate some of minor stories to mean disasters facing migrant workers and this equally discourages the general public. Yes, there are always occupational hazards attached to meaningful employment but must never outweigh positive ones. Instead of portraying all labor exporters as insincerely operating an insecure industry, we ought to applaud them for the good work done.
However, with persistence of negative stories of workers’ abuses, it shows the extent our laws are either inadequate or poorly implemented. This therefore calls for more strengthening of existent laws and formulation of new ones that will enable to weed out unscrupulous firms. This is achievable if government patterns with legally operating private labor firms to conduct dual diligence using its embassies abroad to verify the existence and capacity of foreign employers before workers are dispatched.
This cooperation should ensure that candidates are properly vetted and pre-trained to eliminate bad characters. Government ought to subsidize the cost of travel and other requirements. For injuries and mysterious deaths suffered by immigrants, this partnership ought to ensure compensation of victims in accordance with our worker’s compensation act of 200. With the strict enforcement of these measures, confidence will be restored in the Ugandan general public to trust the industry. It would also boost recruitment even among elites as this does not only help the economy with much coveted foreign exchange but also make redundant labor productive. And this will create wealth for Uganda through harnessing the redundant human labor we have in the country.
We must there fore follow suit of other countries like China that are earning a lot from labor export through remittances and this will be achieved by strengthening our operating environment to achieve what countries like of China, India, Mexico and Philippines are achieving instead of demonizing subsector/ private players.
The writer is the Associate Director, Centre for Energy Governance.