Labour migration today is a global phenomenon and many states are now countries of origin, transit and destination for migrant workers.
It’s for this reason that the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG) target 8.8 calls on member countries to “protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment”.
Eight percent percent of labour migration in Africa is intra-regional, within the continent, contrary to the popular belief that African workers mostly migrate to the Middle East and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Europe and America.
Labour migration in Africa is mainly driven by economic reasons as workers seek better jobs and wages and it has a great impact on the social and economic well-being of countries of origin, transit and destination.
In destination countries, migrant workers help meet the demand for skills, contribute to the growth of sectors such as agriculture, mining, construction and services and promote entrepreneurship. Countries of origin benefit from remittance flow, transfer of skills and technology.
When properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants and their communities in the countries of origin and destination.
However, despite the efforts made to ensure the protection of migrant workers, many remain vulnerable and are exposed to significant risks during the migration process such as human trafficking. Therefore, there are ongoing efforts at a continental, regional and national level to protect migrant workers.
At a continental level, the International Labour Organization (ILO) worked closely with the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to develop a Joint Labour Migration Programme (JLMP) for Africa that was adopted in January 2015. JLMP focuses on facilitating the free movement of workers as a crucial means of advancing regional integration and development in Africa.
At a regional level, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has a draft Protocol on Free Movement of Persons which provides a clear regulatory framework for free movement of workers.
In East Africa, labour migration has been harmonised through the Protocol for the Establishment of the East African Community Common Market. Article 11 of the Protocol is intended to actualise free movement of labour within partner states undertaking to mutually recognise the academic and professional qualifications, experience obtained, requirements met, licences or certifications granted in other partner states.
Partner states have also committed to harmonise their educational curricula, examinations, standards, certification and accreditation of education and training institutions. On the other hand, Article 12 provides that, partner states will harmonise labour policies, laws, and national laws and programmes to enable free movement of labour within the Community.
In addition, national social security policies, laws and systems of partner states are expected to be reviewed and harmonised.
To protect Kenyan migrant workers, the government has bilateral agreements with some Gulf Cooperation Council countries such as the United Arabs Emirates, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Qatar and has labour attaches in these countries who address labour related concerns raised by Kenyans in the Gulf.
The National Employment Authority (NEA), a state corporation under the State Department for Labour, undertakes vetting and accreditation of private employment agencies to ensure orderly and ethical recruitment of Kenyans.
Migrant workers going for home care management jobs are taken through pre-departure training to equip them with skills and knowledge needed in their country of destination.
In addition, to provide an overarching regulatory framework to guide migration, Kenya is currently finalising a Labour Migration Management Bill and Policy.
Further, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection will convene a Regional Ministerial Forum on Harmonizing Labour Migration Policies in the East and Horn of Africa, with representation from Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, and Tanzania.
This forum will provide a platform for regional policy makers to discuss how the countries can leverage and enhance opportunities offered by the large intra-regional labour flows for development, the role regional bodies in the East and Horn of Africa play to facilitate intra-regional migration, how to promote migrants as resource, how to protect migrants workers and how to harmonise labour laws and policies in the region.
In a global environment that is increasingly hostile to migrants, the East and Horn of Africa region has a unique opportunity to provide best practice for fruitful migration amongst its people.
Eng. Peter K. Tum, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Labour.