With the alarmingly huge numbers of unemployed youths in East African countries, governments have embarked on looking for labor exports to foreign countries. Today, it’s not only individuals who are seen selling the property to travel to the Middle East in search of green pastures. Governments and the private sector have also entered into this business. They are signing agreements between the Middle East’s governments to provide conducive working conditions for their youths. Countries, where youths have turned to, are Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, and Lebanon.
For instance, more than 140,000 Ugandans are working in the Middle East. They send about $500 million remittances to their families back home according to Uganda Association for External Recruitment Agencies. These remittances have greatly impacted the economy and taken thousands out of poverty. However, it’s through a cost that the laborers have to pay. They are often subjected to harsh working conditions, which include working for 21+ hours, physical and sexual abuse, torture, and death. Therefore, it is important that governments set labor laws to protect their youth from exploitation by foreign employers. In this regard, Uganda signed bilateral labor agreements with Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Unfortunately, this does not protect the Ugandans working in other Arab countries.
Past bad experiences in the middle east countries have forced countries to be careful about sending their citizens to work for foreigners. Rwanda has, for example, signed an agreement with UAE for Rwandans going to work there. To ensure the process runs smoothly, an official at the Ministry said that only middle and high skilled candidates would go to UAE, This will ensure that cases of exploitation and other vices reduce. “Those recruited will sign contracts before leaving Rwanda; this is to reduce cases of exploitation that we hear of.”
Existence of a minimum wage requirement is one of the strategies to reduce exploitation of employees in the middle east. Rwanda seems stern on wage laws which were supposed to be passed alongside the labor law last year. Delay in passing this law has only left many being exploited by their employees. A labor requirement is important to act as a threshold on the exporting labor countries to maintain a safe working condition for the people.
The PS at the Ministry of Labor in Rwanda says that this deal serves as ground under which future agreements such as exchange of skills, human resources, and labor safety will be made. Should there be a conflict between an Emirati and a Rwanda, the case should be reported immediately to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation? The ministry will try to find an amicable solution or better still the complainant to the high judicial authorities for adjudication.
Ethiopia has also signed an agreement with the UAE to send 50,000 workers to UAE in efforts to curb youth unemployment. If things go well for the first phase of the skilled labor force, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister says they will send other 200,000 over the next three years. Despite the coveted working opportunities in the middle east countries, some obstacles are faced. For instance, the cost of accessing education for the workers is very high compared to their wages. Ethiopia government has tried to come up with reforms that will favor the workers. They will help protect labor exports from abuses, exploitation, and bad working conditions.