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Senate wants ministry to review labour migration policy

The senate during one of the sessions. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

One year after the Senate Committee on Labour and Social Welfare visited Saudi Arabia to investigate the challenges faced by migrant workers, senators are pushing for new policies to safeguard the rights of Kenyans working in Middle East countries.

Senate has passed a motion by Nominated Senator Veronica Nduati recommending that the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection amends the national labour migration regulatory framework policy to address labour exportation management.

The Motion also recommended the ban of, “all travel by Kenyan migrant workers to the Gulf states with immediate effect.”

The Motion also called for the establishment of functional overseas labour offices for the administration and enforcement of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection policies for migrant workers and a review of the bilateral agreement between Kenya and Saudi Arabia by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Affairs to address identified gaps.

However, this is not the first time Senate has ventured into such territories. A report tabled by then-Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja had more recommendations that aimed to the fix the issues relating to migrant workers including banning Kenyans from going to work in Saudi Arabia but that did not last.

In 2014, the government attempted to close Gulf's house-help industry due to the reported abuse of domestic workers but after a few months, the directive was reversed.

The report revealed that Kenya lacks a comprehensive policy and legal framework to guide the government and create stability in the migration process. Similarly, findings showed that labour migration has been ongoing in the absence of formal agreements and where they exist, they fall short of taking care of the interest of the workers.

It also sought to compel the Ministry of Labour to find out the status of Kenyans currently in prison and deportation centres in Saudi Arabia such as Malaz Prison and Tarhil Deportation Centre in Riyadh while also calling on the Ministry of Labour to establish the current status of all domestic workers in Saudi Arabia, set up a database including their contacts and places of work and put in place safe houses to cater for those in distress.

According to commitments made by relevant ministries following the report, recommendations were supposed to be finalised by June 2022 but so far the plight of Migrant workers in the Middle East continues.

Other recommendations such as the Kenyan Migrant Workers Welfare Fund, established in February 2021 to provide protection welfare and assistance to Kenyan migrant workers during migration are yet to be operationalised despite the deadline lapsing in December 2021.

Reports by the Ministry of labour indicate that at least 80,000 Kenyans live and work in Saudi Arabia. Currently, there are more than 200,000 Kenyans in the Middle East. However, the government has only facilitated 87,784 Kenyan workers to work in the region since 2019. 

In September 2021, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Macharia Kamau, told a parliamentary committee that 41 Kenyans had died in Saudi Arabia within nine months.

However, Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot lamented about the slow implementation of the recommendations by the Ministry and Parliament despite many workers facing exploitation and abuse.

The Majority Leader directed Ms Nduati, to push the Senate Committee to implement the recommendations.

“We need to ensure that the labour attaches are properly funded so that they can maintain communication with the thousands of workers in these countries so that they can help us secure the rights of our citizens,” said Senator Cheruiyot.

"As Senate, we must stand behind this Motion and do more and convert this motion into a Bill... that should become law and put standard which we should use to measure the performance of our ministers and even the president," said Kakamega Senator Boni Khaklwale.

The senators castigated ambassadors in the Middle East countries as they have become "ushers to VIPs" and failed to engage the respective countries on their local labour laws to secure the interest of Kenyans.