Kenya diaspora workers now face mandatory welfare levy


PS State Department for Diaspora Affairs Roseline Njogu with Kenyan nurses recruited for work in the UK during their dispatch ceremony on August 21, 2023, at Afya house in Nairobi. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

All Kenyans working abroad will be required to make mandatory contributions to a State welfare scheme if proposals by the Ministry of Labour are approved.

The scheme, known as the Kenya Migrant Workers Welfare Fund, seeks to provide relief assistance to migrant workers, invalidity benefits, medical assistance, and survivor benefits when a migrant worker dies.

Every migrant worker will be required to register as a member of the fund before departing the country for foreign employment.

Contingency fees paid by private employment agencies will also be channelled to the fund.

“This is a contributory fund in which the government shall also put in some funds. This is an innovative fund to address the plight of migrant workers. The deduction will be of benefit to the migrant workers and they would be able to access it in their hour of need,” Labour Principal Secretary Geoffrey Kaituko told the Business Daily on Thursday.

“The desire is to strengthen the governance of labour migration as current laws do not adequately address migrant worker concerns.”

The rate of contribution by each migrant worker is to be set under regulations to be published later.

If the Bill is approved, Kenya will follow in the footsteps of countries with large diaspora worker populations such as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan which have set up similar funds.

Sri Lanka, for instance, has an Overseas Workers Welfare Fund which is aimed at meeting all expenses incurred in assisting the country’s migrant workers and their families.

The fund offers a compulsory insurance scheme, coverage of the cost of repatriation of migrant workers, scholarships for children, and loan schemes with partner banks to cover migrants’ re-departure costs and start-up of self-employment schemes.

The proposed Kenyan Migrant Workers Welfare Fund shall be managed by a board led by a chairman appointed by the President.

Shem Ochuodho, the global chairman of the Kenya Diaspora Alliance, said many migrant workers would welcome any initiative meant to cater to their welfare.

“Any effort to cushion diaspora welfare is welcome for as long as diaspora members are involved. We don’t know how much in deductions will be put in place but the contributions will be justifiable where there is proper use of funds,” he noted.

The Ministry of Labour estimates that Kenya has close to four million migrant workers mainly in North America, Europe, the Middle East, the Gulf region, and Australia.

A diaspora remittances survey by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) lists the search for jobs and the pursuit of higher education as the main reasons Kenyans in the diaspora left the country.

According to the survey, the bulk of Kenyans in the diaspora reside in the United States, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Canada, Australia, and South Africa.

The new Bill also proposes the establishment of a multi-agency committee on the vetting of private employment agencies.

The committee shall include the principal secretaries of Labour and Foreign Affairs, the Director of Criminal Investigations, the Director of National Intelligence Service, and the Director of Immigration.

The creation of a diaspora welfare fund comes against the backdrop of the documented plight of some migrant workers, especially in Gulf countries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the past reported that at least 89 Kenyans, most of whom were domestic workers, lost their lives in Saudi Arabia between 2020 and 2021.

Harrison Nyando, a dispute consultant at Kibali Labour Consultants and Agencies, said the contributory scheme could be integral to tracking the welfare of migrant workers.

“The contributions could be used to trace migrant workers’ welfare and pay. Whenever such a deduction is not made, that would be a cause for concern by the authorities,” he said.

While migrant workers require welfare support from time to time, the diaspora population is a key source of hard currency in the country through remittances sent home with the inflows being second only to foreign direct investments as a source of foreign exchange for Kenya.

Data from the CBK show the remittances stood at Sh352.2 billion in seven months to the end of July having marked a marginal rise of two percent from a lower Sh345.2 billion at the same stage last year.

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