As economies contract, with governments facing an uphill task of creating jobs for a growing number of youth, a situation that is seen as a time bomb, countries are increasingly looking to the Middle East as a viable market for their labour exports, with some having already signed deals with these countries.
Although in the past two decades the trend has been largely people pursuing employment opportunities individually, selling their property to travel to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, looking for jobs, and others taken by relatives and friends, the pattern has changed with government and private companies now involved.
For instance, up to 140,000 Ugandans are currently working in the Middle East, and these send up to $500 million in remittances to their families back home, according to Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies.
Although the remittances have greatly impacted the economy, and moved many out of poverty, they have come at a cost as many migrant workers, especially domestic servants in these countries suffer abuse, exploitation, torture and death.
By January 2019 Uganda had signed bilateral labour agreements with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but there many Ugandans working in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait.
The unsavoury things that have happened to migrant workers, has informed countries that are just signing bilateral labour agreements with middle eastern countries, to be keen on ensuring the safety of their nationals working in these countries.
Rwanda has signed a deal with UAE for many of its unemployed youth to move there.
An official at the Ministry said only middle and high skilled workers, not domestic workers, will go to the UAE.
The official said government will work closely with private employment agencies to recruit suitable employees, which will be much easier going forward especially after the order guiding private employment which is still a draft now, will be finally out.
“Those recruited will sign the contracts before leaving Rwanda, this is to eliminate cases of exploitation that we hear of.”
Although the country seems to be keen on exploitation of its labour exports, Rwanda is yet to pass the minimum wage a delay, which has subjected many people especially the low-income earners to exploitation.
Government had promised to pass the minimum wage alongside the new labour law, but it ended up passing it last year without the minimum wage.
Although it is more rewarding to benchmark wages for labour exports to richer countries like those in the Middle East and Gulf states, on minimum wages for these countries because it is higher, it becomes much safer for labour from an exporting country to have a minimum wage to be used as a threshold.
During the signing between Rwanda and UAE in Kigali, the PS at the Ministry of Labour, Gaspard Musonera, said the deal gives a framework under which further agreements on labour safety, and exchange of skills and human resources will be agreed upon in the future.
He said government will interact more about the modalities of how Rwandans can be selected to go and work in the UAE in very safe conditions, reiterating that this will contribute to the economy through remittances and exposure of the labour force.
In the event of a dispute between an Emirati employer and a Rwandan worker, a complaint must be registered with the relevant department at the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation, which will try to find an amicable settlement within a specified timeframe, or refer the complaint to judicial authorities for adjudication.
The UAE minister of Human Resources and Emiratisation, Nasser Bin Thani Juma Al Hamil pledged safety for Rwandans who will work across sectors, saying that on top of UAE having rule of law regulating relationship between the employer and the employee, it has a protection system for workers.
According to Musonera, about 200 Rwandans are currently working in the UAE, having gone there before the two countries could sign the labour framework.
Ethiopia has also recently signed a deal with UAE which will see up to 50,000 Ethiopian workers get jobs in UAE, as the country seeks to address its biting youth unemployment.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said one of these short-term programmes to deal with unemployment is sending their skilled labour to foreign countries, with plans underway to send 200,000 over the next three years.
Reports indicate that some of the challenges people face in these countries is the fact that for instance it is difficult for those who would want to pursue studies because education is very expensive compared with their earning.
There are also untrustworthy employers who do not obey laws about pay, rest days, insurances and other unfriendly working conditions; language barrier is also a key challenge.
Foreign nationals account for more than 88.5 per cent of the UAE’s population, according to 2011 government statistics, however many low-paid migrant workers remain acutely vulnerable to forced labour.
Despite some reforms, the kafala (visa-sponsorship) system continues to tie migrant workers to their employers. Those who leave their employers can face punishment for absconding including fines, prison, and deportation.
The UAE’s labour law excludes domestic workers, who face a range of abuses, from unpaid wages, confinement to the house, workdays up to 21 hours with no breaks, to physical or sexual assault by employers, because of this they face legal and practical obstacles to redress.