Kenya Won’t Close Middle East Labour Market, Labour CS Says

Labour CS Simon Chelugui

The government will not close the Gulf labour market despite reports of death and mistreatment in the hands of employers.

Instead, Kenya will continue negotiating more bilateral labour agreements (BLAs) with regions that have high demand for labour exports, especially the Middle East and Europe.

Labour CS Simon Chelugui said that labour export had earned Kenya over Ksh.120 billion in foreign remittances in the last year. This contributed immensely to socio-economic benefits for Kenyans. 

“We have to be conscious and aware of the implications of impulsive or erratic decisions of banning Middle East jobs. This is the third time there is such a suggestion but we will not have resolved that problem,” he said. 

He added that Kenyans would still look for jobs in the Middle East through other means even if a ban was to be put in place. 

Chelugui was speaking during the 17th African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) opening ceremony. 

Plans in place to resolve migrant worker challenges in Saudi Arabia

The CS said that Kenya had previously had problems with seven Middle Eastern countries where Kenyan workers complained of mistreatment. But the government explored diplomatic and bilateral channels to resolve the issues. 

“I condemn anybody who harasses, assaults or denies any worker his or her rightful pay or rights. As a government we take this seriously,” he said. 

Chelugui said the countries had a responsibility to protect Kenyans since they were offering a crucial service to those markets.

“They are benefiting from our services and we deserve the fair treatment of our migrant workers. The public has been concerned, we have lost lives but we are not sitting aloof and remote as the government,” he said. 

According to Chelugui, the government had communicated with the concerned countries regarding the welfare of Kenyan migrant workers.

“We have made communications. I have personally sat with ambassadors and leaders of those countries involved in the interior, immigration and workers’ issues.” 

He said that the government will resolve the challenges that Kenyan workers face in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. The CS will lead a delegation from the ministries of Labour and Foreign Affairs on December 19, 2021, for talks with the Saudi government.

Senate had recommended closure of Saudi market

The Senate Labour and Social Welfare Committee had recently recommended that the Saudi Arabia labour market be closed until certain reforms are implemented.

The Johnson Sakaja-led committee said that labour migration to the Middle East had been going on without formal agreements. 

“Labour migration to key labour destinations in the Middle East has been ongoing in the absence of formal agreement or  memorandum of understanding (MoUs),” part of its report read. 

The committee expressed its concern for the  deteriorating conditions of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the reforms it wanted implemented included establishing the status of all Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia prisons and deportation centers, repatriating all detained Kenyans back home, putting up full-fledged labour offices and safe houses in Jeddah and Riyadh, and a fresh vetting and registration of all private recruitment agencies in Kenya.

Industry stakeholders termed the senate recommendation as insincere and impractical

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) Secretary General Francis Atwoli had also earlier in the year called on the government to ban labour export to the Middle East.

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