Seeking employment from the outside world especially the Middle East is increasingly becoming a viable option for many Ugandan Youths who have failed to find jobs back at home or are discouraged by the peanut pay for most starter jobs
Currently there are over 65000 Ugandans working in the Middle East countries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman, Qatar, Iraq, United Arab Emirates among others as semi-skilled and unskilled/ casual laborers and skilled or professional workers
There are over 150 external Labour recruitment companies that are legally registered and licensed by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD) to recruit and export Ugandan workers to other countries
Most of these companies are also registered and manned under the Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), an umbrella body for all External Labour export agencies, formed in 2013 to ensure protection and safety of Uganda’s externalized laborers but also advocate for the sector’s development and sustainability.
However, with all these companies, regulations and laws in place, there are still many Ugandans that are being trafficked into other countries and being treated in inhumanely by their foreign employers who attain them illegally.
According to external labour exporters, the human trafficking / harassment of Ugandans in Arab countries can only be blamed on unlicensed/ unregistered scrupulous individuals that dupe Ugandans into using illegal means to travel outside Uganda.
In an interview with the Chairman UAERA, Mr Andrew Kameraho who has also been in the labour exporting industry for more than ten years; he talked to us about the changing face of the external labour sector under the Guardianship of the Gender Ministry and Uganda Association for External recruitment agencies(UAERA) and how the Middle East is increasingly becoming A safe and secure place for African laborers
According to Kameraho, one of the main objectives of UAERA is to ensure that all agencies abide by the laws and regulations that govern external labor but also emphasize protection and safety of Ugandan workers while they are in these foreign countries
“Protection of the workers is as crucial for both UAERA and the Recruitment agencies as it is to the employers in the Middle East because it is important for the sustainability of this business. Workers can only be productive if they are being protected and their human rights preserved” he said
He added that the issue of human trafficking should not be associated with legal external labor export and urged Ugandans to be alert as they seek external employment.
“We must distinguish between human trafficking and labor exporting. External labour exporting is a legalized, well regulated sector that is earning Uganda taxes while human trafficking is illegally taking people for unidentified reasons. Things have been made much easier with the digitization of the recruitment system. It should be easy for any Ugandan to verify whether the company they intend to use is licenced by checking on the platform put up by the Ministry of Gender. Lack of information should no longer be an excuse for any Ugandan to be trafficked or duped into paying money for non-existence jobs,” he added
In addition, UAERA and the government of Uganda have good working relationship with embassies in the Middle East that allows Ugandan workers to make complaints in case of any issues with employers and emerging issues have always been immediately addressed.
The growing employment opportunities in Middle East, Kameraho says the future is bright, the demand for Labour in the Middle East is even becoming bigger because of the oil that has spurred developments in other sectors like industrialism, hospitality, agriculture and construction.
‘The demand for labour especially semi-skilled labourers will be there fora long time because of the small population of most of the Middle East Countries. If we are organised as a sector, Uganda can benefit more. Uganda is not the first country to export labour to other countries, even developed countries like India and china as well as African countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya have exported labour from time immemorial and have used remittances to develop their economies’ he said.
Out of the US$1.4b that Uganda receives in remittances annually from diaspora, US$600m of this comes from the Middle East.
He appealed to Government of Uganda to finance and subsidize costs for some willing and energetic Ugandans especially the professionals whose jobs need a lot of input which forces some of them to lose out on opportunities because they cannot afford the application and transportation fees
Esther Nabwehe travelled to Saudi Arabia as a house helper through J.A.G Security service in 2017. On reaching, she was sent to Abha where her employer asked her to look after goats. She complied for three months until when she felt she was no longer comfortable with the work she was doing.
‘I wasn’t being mistreated or what but I felt raring goats wasn’t my cup of tea so I told my employer that I no longer wanted to do that job. I requested that he gives me something else to do or send me back to office.
He called the office and I was sent to another house where I worked as house help’ she said
Nabwehe says that she was only in Saudi Arabia for 1 and a half years and when she wanted to go home, she called the office and the process was started. Early this year, she came home with her money which she used to buy a plot of land and is waiting to start building it
‘The system in Saudi Arabia is organised. The employers stay in touch with our office in Saudi Arabia, and if any worker has issues with the employer, he or she can easily call the office and she would helped. At no point did I feel like I was cornered in a place where I had no way out. There are challenges like adjusting to the weather, language barrier sometimes and food but on the whole, the working conditions are normal’ she noted