Malawian migrant workers may continue to be exposed to abuse and exploitation through private agents as the Ministry of Labour does not have a legal framework to police them, Malawi News has learnt.
This revelation comes amid reports of a human trafficking syndicate in which Malawians, especially women and girls are being sent to Kuwait to work.
Lack of government’s legal mandate might have created room for abuse for Malawian migrant workers.
Government has also not been forthcoming to respond to queries from some bodies which are concerned about the apparently unregulated labour deals.
In its Status of Human Rights Report of 2013, Malawi Human Rights Commission reported that the organisation contacted the Ministry of Labour to seek clarification on matters relating to the labour export programme.
Among other issues, the commission asked for the ministry’s confirmation on the existence of the programme, its objectives, life span, financing and contractual arrangements and criteria of eligibility of persons to be enlisted for the programme.
It also asked for progress in the implementation of the programme, reciprocal arrangements that are in place on the part of the receiving countries, and government’s level of preparedness where the implementation of the programme is concerned and whether or not assessments were carried out with respect to the status of working conditions in the receiving countries.
MHRC says the Ministry of Labour was not and has never been forthcoming with respect to provision of such information.
Executive Secretary for MHRC, Grace Malera, said there are possible human rights abuses to which migrant workers are likely to face such as forced labour, torture, degrading or inhuman treatment and punishment, discriminatory employment practices, confinement and harassment, in receiving countries.
The commission recommended that while the programme may have been designed as one way of the government’s poverty alleviation programme and tackling the problem of unemployment, it is important that the government should comprehensively address all areas that may render it potentially abusive of human rights.
The 2015/16 Amnesty International report highlights that in Qatar, thousands of domestic workers, most of whom are women, and other migrant workers employed by small companies or in informal work arrangements continue to face the greatest risk of abuse, including forced labour and human trafficking.
“Workers employed by large companies also complained of chronic labour abuse such as inadequate housing, low pay and late payment of wages, poor working conditions, and of being prevented from changing jobs,” reads part of the report.
Ministry of Labour spokesperson, Simon Mbvundula, confirmed that the ministry is yet to come up with regulations to control the operations of private employment agencies.
“In the absence of the legal framework, the ministry is in the process of developing Bilateral Labour Agreements with those countries that have a demand for Malawian labour,” he said in a written response to a questionnaire last week.
Mbvundula however emphasised that trafficking in persons is different from labour export as trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights.
“Labour export is a form of regular migration and it is not illegal. The ministry would therefore be grateful to receive reports of trafficking in persons and together with the appropriate authorities such as Police and Immigration, would certainly take action to deal with such malpractice,” he said.
He said the ministry recognises that the country does not have sufficient jobs for the entire labour force.
“For this reason, the ministry looks at labour export as a possible solution to the problem of unemployment and underemployment. This exportation of labour has other benefits for instance; remittances from abroad can facilitate inflow of foreign exchange into Malawi and mitigate the shortage.
“Also the skills gained, if properly utilised upon return, have the potential to help accelerate economic development of the country,” he said.
He said government is working on the legal framework in order to protect migrant workers saying in the interim Malawi government is planning on entering into a government to government Bilateral Labour Agreement with recipient countries.
One of the labour export deals in the country is Job Centre and management consultant for the centre, Trevor Kandoje, cautioned Malawians to look for established recruitment agencies when they are searching for employment abroad.
He said there are lots of bogus agents within Malawi and abroad who are cheating people and do not follow the right procedures to send people abroad.
“This ends up into exploitation especially for girls as they may end up in the hands of human traffickers. Government should accelerate putting in place a legal framework for exporting labour including regulating the operations of private recruitment agencies,” said Kandoje.
He admitted that his company has sent over 1,500 people mainly to United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Kuwait since 2013 to do catering, facility management, construction, administration and general workers’ jobs.
He said his office periodically travels to these countries to check on how they are keeping and encourage them to keep in touch with them to get updates on any issues that may need their attention, adding that none of their clients has ever reported abuse.
“Our main concern so far is that in most of the countries we are sending Malawians to work, Malawi does not have Labour Attaches who would, in our absence, monitor Malawians working in those countries,” Kandoje lamented.
International Labour Organisation (ILO) global employment trends for youth report of 2015 indicates that job creation for the youth remains an uphill struggle as two out of five economically active youths in most countries are unemployed.
Malawi’s current unemployment rate is at 21 per cent, according to National Statistical Office (NSO).
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