INSIDE MINISTER TUMWEBAZE’S TOUGH PLAN TO RID LABOUR EXPORT INDUSTRY OF ROGUE COMPANIES SENDING UGANDANS INTO MIDDLE EAST MISERY
By Mulengera Reporter
When Edgar Moni paid millions to Elite Placement Consulting, all he dreamt of was boarding an aircraft as soon this could happen. But about a year since he paid his Shs6.5m to the Kitintale-based company, his hopes are still as far away as the place is from Uganda.
Moni’s hope is now in Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister for Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD), who has offered to help after the desperate young man sought his help on social media network Twitter where the government official is active.
“Please help me recover my money from Elite placement consulting that extorted my money and failed to take me and also refused to refund my money ever since last year,” pleaded Moni.
Minister Tumwebaze has since referred this case to (MoGLSD) Permanent Secretary James Ebitu for action. Moni is now expected to file “a formal complaint’ offering details on the matter to help Ebitu advise him “accordingly.”
Moni’s case is just one of thousands across the country who labor export companies have fleeced. Unlike him, most of those who are suffering at the hands of unlicensed labor exporting companies and other employment brokers notorious for trafficking Ugandan youths to sex exploitation and other forms of modern-day slavery in the Middle East may not have access to the minister nor have knowledge of where to report the fraud.
ABUSED IN MIDDLE EAST, TWO FEMALES RETURN HOME
Tumwebaze is aware of how huge this problem is. On Tuesday, he received Happy Atuhebirungi and Molly Kayesu back to Uganda from the Middle East where they had been taken but had undergone tear-inducing experiences in the course of their duties as housemaids in Saudi Arabia and Jordan respectively.
Atuhebirungi and Kayesu are recent poster children of the suffering Ugandans go through once trafficked to the Middle East or abandoned by their host companies and recruiting agencies.
Like Moni, Atuhebirungi and Kayesu have been lucky to get in touch with Minister Tumwebaze. For the two young women, it was their relatives who had sent the minister messages after receiving distress calls from Saudi Arabi and Jordan.
“We worked with the company that had taken them to have them back,” revealed Tumwebaze. “Their stories aren’t good.”
RESPONSE TO DISTRESS CALLS
In a meeting with members of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), an umbrella Organisation of agencies engaged in external recruitment in Uganda, Tumwebaze raised some of the complaints MoGLSD has received from members of the public.
“We had candid talks on the ethical conduct of their members and discussed the challenges they face,” said Tumwebaze after the meeting, also attended by junior Labour Minister Mwesigwa Rukutana, MoGLSD Director for Labour Martin Wandera and UAERA Executive Director Enid Nambuya.
“We agreed to work together to fight human trafficking. They also raised their challenges with government to do with getting mandatory clearances like Interpol for their migrant candidates. More consultations will continue.”
But inside the meeting, the minister spat fire, accusing some companies of delayed or no response to the distress calls made by the people they placed in jobs abroad.
He issued an order placing full responsibility of the workers, from departure to Middle East to return to Uganda, on the companies.
The minister also warned them against thinking their licenses would save them if they shunned the people they had taken abroad in times of distress.
There have been cases where companies take Ugandans abroad promising them jobs which are non-existent. On reaching there, some of the people, especially females have been forced into prostitution.
Tumwebaze sounded a warning to the recruiting agencies to refrain from this habit that raises questions on their credibility.
“You should desist from promising greener pastures that are nonexistent,” directed Tumwebaze.
“Disclosure of information should also be done in full regarding state of jobs with details like pay, conditions of work, etc. to enable prospective employees make informed decisions on whether to take up available opportunities or not.”
CONSULAR SERVICES CASH
In a morning talk show before the meeting, Tumwebaze had said his Ministry was “facing a shortage of resources especially when it comes to returning Ugandans in distress while in different countries.”
“I will take that to the cabinet and see if they can add us resources,” he added.
In the meantime, Tumwebaze told UAERA members that MoGLSD would be “requiring of them filed returns from time to time to enable Government offer Consular support.”
Tumwebaze also said government was considering working with other countries to share consular support services with Ugandans.
“We agreed that if one country has no Embassy in a certain country but my counterpart has, let it cover the other country’s nationals and vice versa. That way, we will work and help each other,” he said during an NTV morning interview on Tuesday.
BAN LABOUR EXPORT
When Tumwebaze shared updates of his meetings with Ugandan tweeps, some wondered why it had taken long for government to ban companies sending citizens into Middle East slavery.
“There are jobs here, factories in Namanve are full of youths; we have a thriving bodaboda industry but labor migration will always be there. It is not only unique to Uganda,” he said.
He also advised Ugandans to be more cautious.
“I want to ask Ugandan nationals to make sure they use the right routes when they want to go abroad. Let’s not migrate illegally,” he guided.
In 2017, Uganda banned the export of labour to the Middle East after scores were killed or returned home frail, and depressed.
As a precondition, MoGLSD insisted that UAERA, which had been formed four years earlier, “put in place a monitoring mechanism for ensuring the safety and rights of externalized workers.” A fund was put in place, prompting MoGLSD to allow companies fully return to work in April 2017.
LABOUR COMPANIES RESPOND
UAERA prides itself in working to reduce unemployment in Uganda. For example, according to figures available on the association’s website, over 150,000 Ugandans are currently employed in the Middle East after its 161 member companies helped them find jobs in the countries there.
Even with their contribution in reducing unemployment, which stands at a rate as high as 70 per cent, some key issues remain unresolved.
One of these touches on delays on processing vital migration documents such as those from Interpol where the procedure waddles on for over six months.
For example, Mulengera News has learnt that at least six labor export firms are stuck with recruits over Interpol’s sluggish process, reportedly slowed down by a few individuals who are determined to frustrate the companies for their selfish gains.
As a result, sources in the labour export industry say it is such unnecessary delays which had made desperate people run to the black market. Others have resorted to trafficking female recruits to Kenya where the process for enlistment of maids takes only two weeks.
As a questionable education keeps pouring 400,000 graduates on the market which can only take in 150,000 every year, there are worries that human trafficking and other illegal recruitment measures are likely to increase if agencies like Interpol keep frustrating recruitment companies.
But according to Tumwebaze, government needs to be certain of the availability of jobs before agencies can fly Ugandans abroad.
“Before we allow a labor export company to take Ugandans for work, we have a role to make sure that the jobs promised are actually there,” he said.
“That is why the process tends to be slow but we are working to improve that.”
Baker Akantambira, the UAERA Chairperson, listed the various challenges plaguing the labor export sector. Akantambira said the recruitment agencies receive low commissions per placement yet the costs of deployment had remained high.
He also mentioned inadequate training of the recruits before deployment as another challenge. To handle this matter, UAERA proposes that pre-departure training be improved to help recruits familiarize themselves with what happens on arrival at Middle East airports.
On cases involving trafficking and some firms’ negligence, Akantambira suggested that a special Police Unit be established to handle issues relating to labor externalization. He also called for the review of the anti-human trafficking laws to expedite prosecution of suspects, and also include tough punishments to deter would-be offenders.
WHAT NEW PLAYERS ARE DOING DIFFERENTLY
Although it has faced challenges in recent years, the labour export industry’s role in reducing unemployment is clear.
Recruiting agencies’ attempt at organization is also paying off as government now recognizes them through UAERA.
It is the power it has in finding jobs for Ugandans abroad as well as organization efforts that have attracted more serious players such as tycoon Sudhir Ruparelia, who founded Premier Recruitment Limited.
Ruparelia’s Premier Recruitment agency is already playing a key role in clearing the image of the industry.
For example, at the end of last month, the company engaged local leaders in Nakaseke District’s Kapeeka area, educating LC1 committee members, councilors, church leaders and police about labor migration and how communities can work with the companies’ recruitment agents as well as other agencies.
For now, such engagements between recruiters and communities, and UAERA and government, especially MoGLSD, point to the right direction in bettering the labour export business. However, the latter engagement must produce fast results and actions or else Ugandans could continue losing employment opportunities while others might keep suffering the impact of human trafficking – the issues industry players say can easily be resolved. In fact, even right now someone is being frustrated at Interpol or at another relevant office, while another is being trafficked through a porous border.