Act Now: EAC Partner States Urged to Harness Labour Migration

East African Community (EAC) Partner States have been called upon to harness labour migration by putting in place the right policy frameworks that can help spur economic growth in the region.  

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Labour and Social Protection, Hon. Simon Chelugui, further urged EAC Partner States to always negotiate as a bloc with other regional economic communities and big economies in order to reap from the economies of scale.  

Chelugui underscored the importance of aligning national social security laws to extend access to social protection and portability of benefits for workers across the region.  

The CS singled out key issues that need to be addressed to promote labour migration in the region, namely: harmonisation of Labour laws, and; enhancement of the use of ICT in collection, analysis and dissemination of labour market information, data and statistics on migrants.  

Chelugui urged Partner States to consider sharing Honorary Consuls services in key labour destination countries to improve the provision of necessary consular assistance and protection of the social, economic, labour and human rights of EAC migrant workers.  

He called upon Partner States to promote ethical recruitment of migrant workers according to international standards and principles of International Migration Law, adding that Kenya had already established an oversight and community Feedback mechanisms for the recruitment industry. 

He highlighted the key challenges to labour migration in the region as infringement of migrants’ rights; trafficking in persons; smuggling of persons and child labour; forced returns; inadequate return and reintegration frameworks; high cost of remittances, and; gender segregation; restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. 

Chelugui was addressing the 5th EAC Forum of Ministers Responsible for Labour and Employment at the Julius Nyerere Convention Centre in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The CS chaired the forum. 

Addressing the forum, EAC Secretary General Dr. Peter Mathuki said the labour and migration sector had registered several achievements such as the development and adoption of the EAC Common Market Scorecard on Free Movement of Labour, Rights of Establishment and Residence, 2018.  

Mathuki disclosed that the Secretariat was developing and an implementation plan to implement the Scorecard.  

“In addition, a draft Council Directive on Coordination of Social Security benefits was negotiated, developed and is now undergoing consultations. As required under the EAC Common Market Protocol, the Partner States have progressed in the process of reviewing their national laws to comply with the Common Market Protocol commitments and obligations,” said Mathuki.  

He also informed the meeting that with support from the African Union Commission Joint Labour Migration Programme (AUC-JLMP) where IOM and ILO are implementing partners, the EAC Secretariat has received technical and financial support to develop the EAC Labour Migration Policy which will facilitate, and coordinate labour migration areas related to harmonisation of national policies and legal frameworks governing labour migration.  

“The policy covers several focus areas social protection for migrant workers; combatting irregular migration, human smuggling and trafficking; and diaspora engagement in development processes including easing cost of remitting. I therefore call upon you to consider this policy in view of its immense benefits in coordinating the sector,” he said.  

The Secretary General expressed his commitment to establishing a standalone Sectoral Council responsible for Labour, Migration and Employment given the importance of Labour to the Socio-economic development and transformation of the Community. This was in response to a request by the Ministers to promote the Forum into a Sectoral Council. 

In his remarks, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Country Director for Tanzania, Wellington Chibebe, informed the forum of Africa’s high informality rate which currently is estimated at 82.9 per cent. 

“When measured in terms of gender, the informality rate of women at 86.6 per cent is higher than that of males, which stands at 80 per cent. Africa’s informality rate translates into 379 million people being in informal employment. The problem of informality is higher in Sub-Saharan Africa than in North Africa at 84.9 per cent and 70.8 per cent in North Africa,” said Chibebe, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated the situation by reversing the previous gains significantly.  

“Informality” is a term used to describe the collection of firms, workers, and activities that operate outside the legal and regulatory frameworks or outside the modern economy. 

 Chibebe reveald that the social protection expenditure in Africa amounts to less than 5 per cent of GDP compared to a global average of 12.9 per cent.  

“This is why the ILO Regional Office has developed a regional strategy to support constituents’ initiatives towards universal social protection at the national level. The aim is to more than double Africa’s social protection coverage to 40% by 2025!  In this regard, the partnerships with the African Union, World Bank, UNDP, UN Country Teams and other key actors have been significantly enhanced. We look forward to partnering with the EAC in this endeavour,” said the ILO Country Director. 

Chibebe noted that one vital lesson learnt from the pandemic was the importance of digital technology in response to crises. 

Chibebe said that the pandemic presents an opportune moment to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation and create decent and resilient jobs in the digital economy, adding that it was in this context that the ILO launched the ILO/ITU/ AU joint continental programme on “Boosting decent jobs and enhancing skills for youth in Africa’s digital economy.”   

“The programme supports ILO constituents across the continent to ensure that Africa’s youth are able to realize the opportunities in the digital economy, but also that the digital economy benefits from the creativity, innovation and talents of young people. This programme is being piloted with seed funds from the ILO and other partners in Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa,” said the ILO official.  

Chibebe said that it was widely recognized that trade integration can play an important role in driving growth and employment.  

“It is also widely accepted, however, that the gains from trade do not accrue automatically nor equally, and policies matter both for gains to materialize and for the redistribution of the gains. A new generation of employment policies that are closely coordinated with economic policies, including trade and social protection policies can provide a framework to better realize productive and inclusive job gains in the African Continental Free Trade Area,” said Chibebe. 

On her part, Ms.Simovska-Nikolic Mira, the Movement Operations Manager, IOM Tanzania, on behalf of IOM Regional Director for East and Horn of Africa, Mohammed Abdiker, told the forum that labour migration was integral to regional integration and had the potential to transform and contribute significantly to inclusive economic growth in the region.  

Noting that while labour migration can create and strengthen bonds between Partner States and societies, Ms. Mira said that it could also be a source of division within and between States and societies, often leaving migrants vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. 

Also present at the meeting were Domine Banyankimbona, Minister of Public Services, Labour and Employment, Burundi; Hon. Fanfan K Rwanyindo, Minister of Public Service and Labour, Rwanda;  James Hoth Mai, Minister of Labour, South Sudan; Betty Amongi, Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Uganda, and; Mudrik Ramadhan Soraga, Minister of Labour, Economic Affairs and Investment, Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania. 

Also present were Partner States’ Permanent/Principal/Under Secretaries for Labour and Migration, Social Partners, East African Trade Unions Confederation and East African Employers Organisation. 

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