The externalization of labour bill: Why Uganda needs to embrace but regulate the labour export industry

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Photo credit: Hudah Nassali @hudahnassali

On the 28th of February, 2019, Hon. Arinaitwe Katambuka Rwakajara moved a motion seeking leave of parliament to introduce a private Member’s Bill titled The Externalization of Labour Bill. Owing to reports on social media and in the mainstream media as regards to the treatment of Ugandan migrant workers most especially in the Middle East, it is justifiable if one referred to the Bill as evil. But that is far from it.

Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates globally with more than 78% of its population below 30 years. This is the productive age of many people but while the labour force is increasing with each passing year, the labour market is actually shrinking rendering it incapable of accommodating the 500,000 young Ugandans that join the labour market annually. This makes labour export the most feasible alternative way out of this unemployment conundrum. The strategy of exporting labour is only feasible in a global context where there has occurred or is occurring integration of world economies and markets. Globalization represents a growing integration of national economies, along with the diffusion of social, cultural and political norms and practices all over the world and this presents a perfect conduit for labour and knowledge transfer to thrive.

Most Asian countries like India, China and the Philippines adopted labour export as a measure to exploit the opportunities presented by globalization and as stop gap measure to curtail unemployment as they muscled up the requisite resources to enable the economy accommodate the labour force. Uganda equally adopted the externalization of labour in 2005 as a measure to shed off its excess and abundant labour force though this policy has culminated into an industry that is lucrative but unregulated hence the making the need for regulatory processes more needed today than ever before.

Contextual Analysis Of Labour Externalization Statistics And Trends.

Data from the World Bank about economic migration and remittances indicates that the number of economic migrants has increased, which has seen an upward trajectory in remittances from 250 million worth $613 billion worldwide. The biggest recipients of remittances are India which receives $69billion per year, China at $64billion, Philippines at $33billion and Mexico at $31billion. These nations have experienced significant GDP growth as a result of having a huge portion of their labour force working abroad and repatriating the incomes back to their countries.

A study by Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs (UPFYA) affirms that 70,000 Ugandans of whom more than 64% are youth have been recruited as workers into some countries in the Middle East while 50,000 Ugandan workers sought jobs on their own. Remittances to Uganda have increased from $ 1.6 billion (Sh4.6 trillion) in 2016, to $ 2.0bn (Sh7 trillion in 2017 and they can only go higher as the labour export industry is regulated and formalized so that the nation can gain from the labour and exploits of her citizens.

Justification For The Externalization Of Labour Bill.

The bill in its current form seeks to: i) regulate the export of labour from Uganda, ii) provide issuance of licensing to recruitment agencies, iii)  impose obligations on the recruitment agencies and foreign principles, iv) provide for the repatriation of Ugandan migrant workers, v) provide for the rights of Ugandan migrant workers and vi) empower the Minister to enter into bilateral labour agreements with qualifying countries and for related matters.

This is a game changer in regulating an industry which despite its economic lucrativeness has been described as a form of modern slavery and where many of Uganda’s citizens have been subjected to untold human suffering and some have met their death. The problem has not been exportation of labour but the lack of the necessary laws and regulations to guide the process of recruitment and to protect the migrant workers once they are in the countries of placement. This is why the bill proposes for creation of labour placement officers in the countries where Uganda’s migrant workers are located.

The labour exportation industry is one of the most lucrative industries worldwide and is estimated to be worth more than US $613 billion globally. By its lucrative nature, the industry if unregulated has the potential to attract 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.

Migration is one of the three components of population change, complementing fertility (births) and mortality (deaths). People migrate for different reasons which may vary from person to person. Labour migration is an inevitable phenomenon given the high unemployment rates most especially in the African sphere. One in four migrations are labour oriented. As Africa’s population continues to grow while the job market shrinks, labour externalization will continue to emerge as the most feasible way out of the unemployment conundrum. It is therefore prudent that laws are put in place to regulate the labour export industry and protect the rights, freedoms and liberties of the migrant workers.

 

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