By David Omoding
The media has been awash with stories of how the Ugandan Government is signing up bilateral agreements with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to export graduates to the Middle East countries to work as house maids.
I was astonished by this development and wondered how the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, a government agency in charge of labour issues reached this decision without consulting key players including; the academicians, students, labour activists and other stakeholders. They ought to have first understood who domestic workers are and the nature of work they do.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 189 on decent work for domestic workers, article 1 defines a domestic worker as any person engaged in domestic work within an employment relationship.
The convention spells out the rights, duties and responsibilities of domestic workers including; timely payment, freedom of association and collective bargaining, right to leave, privacy, treatment with dignity, respect, maternity leave and work contract. Domestic workers perform a variety of household services for an individual or a family including; providing care for children and elderly dependents, housekeeping like cleaning and household maintenance, cooking, laundry, shopping for food and undertaking other household errands.
Just like in Uganda, most countries do not define domestic work as work neither as producing value. As a result, domestic workers are subjected to abuses and violations including; restricted mobility, lack privacy, non-payment of their meagre wages, verbal, physical, sexual and psychological abuse and work long hours. Raising this issue does not imply that I undermine house maids and the role they play but university graduates are beyond domestic work and they really deserve better than what government has currently termed ‘the best opportunity’.
Graduates may not willingly take-up these but due to desperation of joblessness in this country of over 62% and 83% according to recent reports published by both Action Aid and African Development Bank respectively; they will be forced to succumb.
The Ministry also needs to pay attention to issues of safety as these workers live in closed doors with restricted movements. Uganda has been reluctant to pass regulation on this; we have not ratified the ILO convention on decent work for domestic workers neither do we have any policy regime on this and as a result it has escalated exploitation, torture, and both physical and sexual abuse of domestic workers.
Abroad Ugandan workers have been increasing abused, raped, their body organs removed or murdered, forced into prostitution, drug trafficking, travel documents confiscated and have ended-up stranded; and government has no concrete steps to curb such criminal behavior, let alone a sustainability plan for the survivors of such abuse.
According to the ILO there are currently 53 million people worldwide and majority are women and girls employed in private homes as domestic workers.
Mr. Moses Binoga, the Coordinator of Anti-Human Trafficking in a recent media interview noted that, “Every month, over 20 Ugandans are stranded abroad seeking help to return home, if multiplied in a year the numbers total to over 250.”
While there they get into forced labour and sexual exploitation to survive. According to the 2011 Employment Policy in Uganda, domestic work employs 50% of women and is one of the lowest paying sectors in the country.
Uganda should go slow on this project and instead focus on redesigning the education system to make it more appealing, practical and technical to produce job creators than seekers; this would probably be a long term plan but it works! Exporting the youth to work as housemaids is not a lasting solution to the high unemployment rates in Uganda.
Can you imagine our graduates competing with all kinds of people including the illiterates, then what will be the rationale for sending them to school? And when it fails to accommodate all the numbers, what will be the next option?
In fact, this engagement will just water down our education system; for long Uganda has been a hub of education across the African countries, what implications will this cause at the regional and global level?
In conclusion, I do not second the issue of exporting Ugandan graduates a broad to work as nannies. If indeed government needs to tap into this “gold mine” like it’s assumed to be, it should first urgently address the issue of safety which includes; ratifying the ILO convention and pass other laws focused at regulating the sector.
It should consider working with the International Labour Organization to ensure that the destination countries domesticate the ILO convention and also put in place policies regulating the sector and they should also establish monitoring measures and have a standard data base of all Ugandan workers abroad classified according to the sectors they are in.
At the national level, Government should amend the Employment Act of 2006 to include a home as a work place, define domestic work in the law and license or regulate domestic workers recruitment agencies.
The writer is advocacy and communication Officer of the Platform for Labour Action
Ugandan graduates deserve better than serving as house maids abroad