In the wake of reported human rights violations in the Gulf countries, the East African Community (EAC) is pursuing the harmonisation of labour migration policies to curb exploitation and abuse of migrant workers.
The initiative being spearheaded by the International Labour Organisation and the EAC secretariat is targeting to strengthen regional integration to safeguard the lives of those who seek greener pastures in key labour destination countries.
The regional technical working committee is reviewing the existing Bilateral Labour Agreements (BLAs) in EAC to develop a guideline that will help the countries to lobby as a group about the rights, jobs and terms of employment of their citizens.
Of great concern, issues of the informal economy such as domestic work are not comprehensively covered in any of the regional policy frameworks.
EAC Head of Labour and Immigration Stephen Niyonzima noted that while all partner states are members of ILO, some have not ratified the relevant conventions, including the ILO Migration for Employment Convention 97 of 1949.
“This has exposed the workers to a range of abuses, including unpaid wages, confinement to the house, workdays up to 21 hours to physical and sexual assault by employers,” said Mr Niyonzima.
Considering that EAC migrant workers are often subjected to a lower set of human rights protection standards, Andrew Odete from ILO underlined the need to create a legally binding rights and obligations governed by international law. “None existence of standard policies and legal frameworks on BLAs has made EAC countries to rely on international instruments for which some partner States have not ratified,” said Mr Odete.
Last week’s stakeholders meeting held in Entebbe noted that the infamous Kafala (sponsorship) system in the Gulf has stripped migrant workers of their basic rights. “Under this system, they have no right to move, travel or change work. They have little access to healthcare and no right to union representation or to form organisations,” Mr Odete pointed out.