By Kahonzi Kaliwa
The umbrella workers body COTU is developing a plan to ensure safety and security of Kenyans who migrate abroad for jobs.
This follows rampant cases of abuses of Kenyans working in foreign countries especially in the Gulf region where over 80 workers have died in the last two years.
the first assistant secretary general of KUDHEIHA and COTU Kenya, Ms Teresa Wabuko, says the aim of the union is to ensure that every worker has access to justice at home and abroad.
She said: “Unemployment in the country has forced many young people to seek employment abroad. Many of them are experiencing abuses out there, and, as workers’ rights defenders, we are deeply saddened,” Ms Wabuko said.
The unionist took issue with the government for failing to provide proper procedures for Kenyans who intend to travel abroad.
“The government has a responsibility to guide migrants so that they can be safe and secure during their travelling and stay at foreign countries, so that in case of problems they are easily repatriated,” Ms Wabuko added.
However, she urged migrant workers to avoid illegal agents.
“We have advised employees to use the national employment authority website to ascertain whether the agents they choose to handle their foreign jobs are genuine. They should do away with brokers,” the official added.
Ms Wabuko said where one cannot access the website, he or she should go to the national employment authority or KUDHEIHA offices for assistance.
She also emphasized that Kenyans traveling abroad should enter into a work agreement with their employers.
“They have to know who they are going to work for, what kind of work they will do, who will cater for their health when sick and will stand for their travel once their contract is over,” the COTU official said.
On legislations the unionist called for an overhaul of the laws that deal with migrant workers.
“As a country we enjoy income brought by through migrant workers but also their rights must be fully protected,” she lamented.
Migrant recounts ordeal
A Mombasa resident who has returned to the country from Qatar described the problems in the middle east countries.
The returnee who asked not to be named to protect his current job told of how he abandoned a good job of a researcher and salary of Kshs 36,000 to go to Qatar only to end up on job that earned him mere Kshs 30,000 per month.
He said: “I quit my three-year contract of a researcher here because my agent told me I was going to work for a firefighting company for a salary of Kshs 80,000 per month.
“I found a completely different situation where my gross salary was Kshs 33,000 but after deduction of Kshs 10,000 for the agent for one year, I would be left with a net Kshs 23,000 which was not even sufficient to support myself and my family back here in Kenya.”
He explains that for four years he has been working as a water pipe carrier.
“I used to get up at 3 am every day to prepare for the shift that started at 4 am until dusk. The only break was one hour for lunch,” he added
He blamed the Kenyan government for failing to put in place appropriate strategies for migrant workers.
“The government must know where you are traveling and to whom you are going to work for, and how you will be helped when you are in trouble. Many times we have seen young girls going through abuses and some ending up as sex workers because employers confiscated their credentials and telephones,” the returnee.
He challenged the Kenyan government to create employment opportunities for the youth to avoid the challenge of earning a living abroad where they are experiencing violence.