The Uganda Nurses and Midwives Union (UNMU) President Justus Cherop on Tuesday said engagements are underway to send some of the 3,000 well-skilled nurses who are not employed by the government to work abroad.
His remarks came following ongoing plans by some labour companies in the country to send nurses to work in the United Kingdom and the Middle East.
“We have about 5,000 nurses graduating from institutions and universities every year. The government can absorb around 2,000 every financial year,” Cherop said.
“We are looking for labour export companies so that those who are not employed can find work abroad,” he added.
The labour externalisation plans come amid concerns that the number of medical workers in the country is too small to offer quality care to the increasing number of patients. There are also issues of low pay in private facilities and some nurses and midwives are not satisfied with the enhanced salaries the government is paying them.
A 2019 Health Workforce report by international civil society organisations, Wemos Health Unlimited and African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation, showed a big deficit.
“The total number of skilled health workers (doctors, midwives and nurses) required by the country would be 167,765. In 2019, however, the number stands at just 277,612,” the report indicated.
Cherop said the country needs to employ 55,000 nurses to effectively serve the population and reduce deaths in health facilities. He said the government currently employs 28,000 nurses and midwives out of 62,000 who are qualified in Uganda.
Labour companies such as Premier Recruitment said they want qualified nurses to work in the UK for around Ush5 million ($1342) per month after one has paid them a whopping Ush20 million ($5369) for the recruitment processes. They did not specify the qualification and their officials were not willing to give comments by press time. The government is currently paying nurses somewhere between Ush1 million ($268) to Ush4.6 million ($1235) depending on one’s qualification.
Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies spokesperson Ronnie Mukundane told The Daily Monitor that the government allows their members to take medical workers abroad.
“The government gives a licence to labour export companies to take anyone as long as the job is there and has been approved by the country’s ministry of gender, labour and social development (MGLSD),” he said.
Permanent secretary for MGLSD Aggrey Kibenge said there are no restrictions on labour externalisation, specifically for medical workers. “We just do not have a framework for this category of migrant workers,” he said.
“The Bilateral Agreements we have with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Memorandum of Understanding with the United Arabs Emirates are for Domestic Workers (Maids) and non-domestic workers including cleaners, security jobs etc. We are looking at including skilled workers in these agreements,” he added.
Bilateral agreements allow for labour migration governance which ensures safe, orderly and regular labour migration.
The plan to send nurses and doctors abroad was first hinted at by the Gender and Labour minister, Ms Betty Amongi, in February last year. But the Uganda Medical Association (UMA) challenged the plan, saying there is an alarming shortage of medical workers in many public health facilities across the country that government should first address.