By Arthur Nuwagaba Kahigima
On Wednesday May 15th 2019, there was a workshop on modem day slavery at Golden Tulip Hotel in Kampala. The workshop was an engagement of different stakeholders to inform the proposed Anti-slavery Bill 2018. It was during this conference that Speaker of Parliament made a staid revelation that most Government officials including the Ministers own external Labour companies and therefore it would be hard to regulate the business and she suggested that the business of exporting manpower should be entirely in the hands of the Government. I believe this is superlative proposal if the president can support it since many other officials who would be in support have interest.
Firstly, besides government officials owning the companies, there other many non-Ugandans who own the companies here mostly from Middle East countries. Since having a license requires a company to deposit 50m on the account to get a bank guarantee that’s presented to the Ministry of Labour, majority Ugandans who cannot get that money, they source the foreigners who have the money and they give them shares in the company in order to help them to get a license. Also some Ugandans who started the companies have later been sold to the foreigners at high price!
Therefore, most companies are partially or wholly owned by foreigners and as a result, they lack empathy, they really don’t care whether our girls suffer in the Middle East countries or not. What they care about is the money they are paid whenever the girls reach to their place of work and worse still, they repatriate the money to their home countries. As a result, Uganda loses twice, our girls are mistreated and we lose the money through repatriation.
Secondly, each girl that goes to Saudi-Arabia and the Jordan, the company here is paid $1100 for recruitment process and air ticket. On this money, a company should be spending Shs 250,000-400,000 for a passport, Shs 200,000 for medical, 200,000 for training, 800,00 for Yellow fever card and almost $250 for Air ticket. The remaining is the profit of the company. Unfortunately, most companies charge girls for all the items I have mentioned above which should be free according to Ministry of Gender, Labour and social development guidelines. Besides these companies are paid deposits of 30% of the total amount of $1100 before recruiting exercise. You can see that precisely; the companies earn $700-$800 for each girl they export to Middle East.
This makes the business so lucrative both for exporting companies here and the agencies which act as middle men between Ugandan companies and the employers. You imagine if the recruiting agency pays Ugandan company $1100, how much does the employer pays the foreign agency? That’s why our girls will remain suffering at the hands of their employers/masters because they have a feeling of entitlement. They pay a lot of money to acquire a domestic worker, therefore when she gets there, she is not seen as a human being but rather a donkey/an object which cannot get tired! She is seen as property/slave because she was affluently bought. We all know that whenever you buy something, it should be working for you the way you want it. So that’s the scenario our girls find themselves in. They cannot come back at will unless they pay the money the employer spent on them/purchased them and air ticket back to Uganda.
Thirdly, the Ministry of Labour was duped by the companies which are licensed to export labour, by creating their own association Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) to be in charge of regulating the business! How can these companies regulate themselves? They adeptly persuaded the ministry that they would be monitoring the girls they send to Middle East and each company which takes the girls out pays $20 per girl to UAERA for monitoring those girls’ working condition while in the Middle East in addition to 1.5M each company pays to UAERA as subscription fee. This is sad and ministry of Labour should rethink about this strategy. It was hoodwinked by the UAERA, because these are the same people who are beneficiaries, they cannot regulate what benefits them.
I would therefore support the Speaker of Parliament Hon Kadaga’s proposal of making labour export a monopoly of government. Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development should totally be responsible and the money that foreign agencies pay for the girls, should either go to the government instead of going to private companies which don’t care about the plight of our girls, or the government should make it free or cheaper, because when these girls go as free workers, they may not be treated as property and can always come back at will without forcing them to first pay the money they were bought. Also the government should employ officers in the Middle East countries where our girls are deployed for easy monitoring. Government should not keep a blind eye when our girls are suffering! We cannot afford our country to become a laughing stock! We all know that there is unemployment here and our young people need to work, but let us help them to have a better working environment.
The writer is a National Coordinator Organizing for Action (OFA)