KAMPALA, UGANDA: Government has suspended the registration of new labour export companies until a comprehensive report on the measures being taken to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Ugandans abroad is provided.
The development was yesterday announced by the minister of Gender, Labour, and Social Development, Ms Betty Amongi in a meeting with the members of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA) at Hotel Africana in Kampala yesterday.
UAERA is an umbrella firm for all external labour recruitment agencies in the country.
Ms. Amongi noted that the report on streamlining the labour export industry which she presented during a recent Cabinet meeting chaired by the President, was rejected on grounds that it left out pertinent issues.
“The President and the Vice President, Ms. Jessica Alupo, and other ministers directed that I go back and compile a more comprehensive report on the measures that companies are taking to address complaints from all Ugandans working abroad so that they are reduced,” she noted adding that ministers suggested banning labour export altogether.
“Others suggested that we put on hold and resort to measures that will ensure that the workers are safe. We have closed the system, waiting for discussions with Cabinet. As people licensed to externalise labour, this meeting should help us to get your input. We have done our draft but I need your input in what should be contained in the paper that I am expected to present to Cabinet,” she said.
The minister said some of the concerns raised during the Cabinet meeting included a lack of a clear mechanism of addressing the distress of workers in homes, difficulties in getting exit visas after their contracts have expired and denial of telephone services to communicate with relatives back home.
“That is why they believe it is modern-day slavery. These are some of the things that we need to respond to in the Cabinet paper,” Amongi said before revealing that the issue of body organ harvesting was more pronounced during the Cabinet discussion.
As of today, a total of 276 companies are licensed by the Gender and Labour Ministry to take Ugandans abroad for external recruitment, which according to the Minister is a huge number which raises concern from the government.
“Cabinet is saying these are too many companies. Come up with a mechanism to retain companies that are lawfully placing workers in right places and those that are not considered serious might be told to pack,” she said.
Despite the ban, Amongi noted that the external recruitment industry is greatly contributing to Uganda’s revenue base with a total of $900m remittances from migrant workers registered between 2020-2021 compared to coffee exports that fetched $559m during the same period.
Mr. Baker Akatambira, the chairperson of UAERA, promised to protect the rights of Ugandan migrant workers and urged the government to always intervene should the rules be breached.
It should be noted this is not the first time government is putting to hold the registration and licensing of new labour firms. In 2019, the government suspended licensing new labour export companies in order to address challenges in the sector.
Consequently, the government introduced a number of measures, including bringing into effect the Employment (Recruitment of Ugandan Migrant Workers) Regulations Statutory Instrument No. 47 of 2021.
The statutory instrument, among others, provides for verification of all job orders, and accreditation of all foreign recruitment agencies and prohibits non-Ugandans from owning external recruitment agencies.