Members of Parliament have called on the government to initiate alternatives to address the growing vice of mistreatment and abuse of labour exported to the Middle East, with focus on maids.
During Plenary on Wednesday, Ibrahim Ssemujju, MP for Kira Municipality, called for the establishment of an Evacuation Fund during the consideration of the report by the Committee on Gender, Labour & Social Development.
The report addressed a petition by Elivanson Nabatanzi, who sought the return of her daughter taken by Prime Linkages Limited to work as a house help in Saudi Arabia.
Ssemujju asked for a proactive solution to addressing the inhumane mistreatment faced by migrant workers abroad. He cautioned against a total ban on labour exportation as it was proposed in the 9th Parliament, citing the high unemployment rates in Uganda. Instead, he proposed the creation of an Evacuation Fund, which the government could utilize to rescue workers facing abuse.
“The preliminary issues that we can deal with is the quick evacuation and let us be present in these areas where they are, we have no consulate or embassy in Oman. Saudi Arabia is such a vast country, when the girls are abused in Jeddah, it takes them 12 hours to go to Riyadh by bus. The amount we are receiving from these girls as per figures given by this report, if we look at the economy is more than the money we get from all crops exported including coffee,” Ssemujju said.
Ssemujju argued that standards for domestic work were lacking, as these workers were subject to the whims and conduct of individual households.
“Instead of quarreling with recruitment agencies, let us put an evacuation fund and establish small offices in the cities where these workers are employed. We should handle these issues pragmatically rather than emotionally,” urged Ssemujju.
Ssemujju was concerned about the emotional focus on recruitment agencies, saying it is more important to handle factors that lead girls and women to opt for work as domestic helpers.
“I think Parliament is devoting so much time discussing emotionally this issue. Until we have stopped the vulnerabilities forcing girls to go and work as maids, there can’t be standards including the recruitment agencies, you are just blaming them for nothing, each home treats people differently, there are those who are going to abuse them, there are those who are going to beat them.” he said
The leader of the Opposition, Joel Ssenyonyi, echoed Ssemujju’s sentiments, and urged MPs to pay attention to the disturbing stories shared by external labor workers on social media.
“This very week, there has been a trending hashtag on social media, #labourexportexhibitionUG and for you who are twitter friendly, find time and go there, of girls that have gone through grotesque ordeals some eventually made it through the country and are undergoing treatment, it will just give you a picture of what is happening,” he said
He further stated: “The Minister talked about an app, that is okay, but when these girls report to these countries, their travel documents are confiscated, they don’t have passports, identity cards and they have no phone, they are literally slaves, so now that you are talking of an app, how are they meant to access it? We really need to be more practical about these issues. An app is a good thing, for those that can eventually access but let us not limit ourselves,”
The Labor Ministry disclosed its persistent efforts to secure support from the Ministry of Finance for the deployment of labor attachés to various areas. According to officials, these attachés would play a crucial role in addressing the challenges faced by workers abroad, particularly women.
“We are not sitting idle; as we speak, we have been fighting with the Ministry of Finance for money. We have successfully secured funding to deploy labor attachés to these critical areas to assist and protect vulnerable workers, particularly women,”