Last March, the government suspended the externalization of labour to countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Somalia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan, and Iraq to curb the spread of COVID-19. Ugandans looking to work abroad will have to wait for a while as labour exporting companies on Friday last week announced that they are shutting down due to the restrictions imposed on them by the Ministry of Labour, Gender, and Social Development.
The Rt. Hon. Speaker of Parliament, at the 29th Sitting of the 1st Meeting of the 4th Session of the 10th, Parliament of Uganda held on 29th August, 2019 during plenary session directed to the Committee of Gender, Labour and Social Development an assignment to investigate the externalization of labour phenomenon and come up with a preliminary report to the House. The directive was in response to concerns raised by Members regarding the harmful consequences of externalization of Labour and what the government has done to address these concerns especially mistreatment of Uganda migrant workers in the Middle East.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the number of Ugandan workers working abroad is over 20,000, bringing in remittances of over USD 1.4 Billion annually. Further to note, more than 3,000 Ugandans are externalized monthly, creating jobs for more than 36,000 Ugandans.
Most Asian countries like; India, China and the Philippines adopted labour externalization as a measure to exploit the opportunities presented by globalization and as a stop gap measure to curtail unemployment, as they muscled up the requisite resources to enable the economy accommodate the labour force.
Philippines being one of the top 10 emigration countries in the world, the development of migration in the Philippines was associated with the larger picture of world trends, the history of migration in the Philippines can be traced back centuries, with immigration and emigration within the region. One important evolution of Asian international migration is the diversification in type, among which overseas contract workers have become the biggest group. The Philippines may be one of the countries most affected by global labour migration, with more than 1.4 million Filipinos hired abroad in 2009 alone. The Filipino phenomenon can be attributed to strong policy support and government involvement.
What we can learn from the Philippine’s.
In the last three decades in the Philippines, Iabour externalization was a way for the government to deal with high unemployment rates. Migrant workers are valued such that the “Baygong Bayani” (modern-day hero) is awarded to 20 outstanding Filipinos working abroad on Migrant Workers Day, the 7th of June every year. A sophisticated system was developed to promote and regulate labour emigration to promote the safety of migrant worker abroad. The Philippines government defined its goal clearly in regard to externalization of labour, stating that “Migration should be promoted, but only for temporary work via regulated channels”. Therefore, it is actually an employment-driven strategy.
The Philippines developed three key strategic external labour associations, which are; Philippines Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) which deals with industry regulation, employment facilitation, Worker’s protection and General administration support services. This does the work which is very similar to the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA). Secondly the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) Promoting policies, programmes, and projects with Migration and Development as a framework for the strengthening and empowerment of the Filipino overseas community and thirdly the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) Develops and implements responsive programs and services while ensuring fund viability towards the protection of the interest and promotion of the welfare of its member-OFW’s.
The operation of exporting labour comprises both public and private sectors. Migrant workers can receive a set of comprehensive services throughout the stages of migration, from recruitment and pre-departure orientation, to return and remigration.
The national government made efforts to promote the “Filipino workers” brand globally, and to protect workers’ rights.
Private recruiters serving as middlemen, currently, have a much more fundamental role in Filipino labour exports. Since the government handed over the function of recruiting and matching workers to private recruiters in 1976, the recruiting industry has thrived, growing considerably from 44 agencies in 1974 to 5,168 agencies in 2018.
One idea that is gaining currency in local policy 2017 circles is the need to support, and in some cases build, industries within the country that reflect the skills and training which connotes to how the Filipinos acquired overseas trust. In short, instead of labor export, there is a larger opportunity to develop domestic industries that would capitalize on the existing Filipino talent pool abroad.
Despite all the gains in the labour industry in Uganda, labour export sector shouldn’t remain preserved. Opposition from ordinary citizens, related industry, and the government itself, shouldn’t combine to prevent radical policy changes and we should all combine efforts to support this sector holistically.
The writer is an Information Scientist
The Opinion piece appeared in the New Vision Newspaper https://www.newvision.co.ug/news/1529895/labour-externalisation-sector-benchmark-philippine-success