Kenyans working in the Middle East sent home more than Sh120 billion in the last one year despite many documented cases of employee harassment, Labour Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui said Tuesday.
While responding to calls for tougher restrictions, the CS said the government won’t ban the exportation of labour to the Gulf even as Kenyans continue to languish under cruel employers.
Due to the socio-economic benefits, Mr Chelugui said the ministry won’t suspend the migration of domestic workers and would continue negotiating for more opportunities for Kenyans in other countries.
“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.
“Immediately you make such an announcement as a country, which we are capable of doing, Kenyans will still look for jobs in the Arab nations through other means,” he added.
He spoke during the official opening of the 17th African Regional Labour Administration Centre (ARLAC) Committee in Mombasa.
“Kenyan workers used to have a rough time in seven countries in the Middle East. But through bilateral and diplomatic channels, we have addressed the challenges facing our workers. I condemn anybody who harasses, assaults or denies any worker his or her rightful pay or rights. We take this seriously,” the CS said.
Hundreds of Kenyans working in the Middle East have recounted their experiences under cruel employers.
“They are benefiting from our services and we deserve fair treatment for our migrant workers. We have lost lives but we are not sitting aloof and remote. We have made communications. I have sat with ambassadors and leaders of those countries involved in the interior, immigration and workers’ issues,” said Mr Chelugui.
“I’ll focus on protecting our people. There are so many social-economic benefits we gather from this migration but our emphasis is safety first.”
The ministry has opened offices in countries where Kenyans have either been frustrated or had their travel documents confiscated by employers.
“We are only receiving such challenges from Saudi Arabia, but we are working on it,” said the CS.
On December 19, Mr Chelugui will lead a delegation from the ministries of labour and foreign affairs for bilateral talks with Saudi Arabian government officials on how to resolve challenges.
“We’ll address the mistreatment of our people because from the statistics we have, about three to four per cent of Kenyans working in those countries are affected. Over 104,000 Kenyans are working in those countries who are doing their jobs happily,” said the CS.
“The government is taking the challenge of youth unemployment seriously. The Ministry of Interior is digitising records and fingerprints so that by keying your details in a computer, whether you are in Mombasa or Nairobi, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations can establish your records and give you a certificate of good conduct on time,” he added.
Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu) boss Francis Atwoli urged the government to ban the export of labour to the Middle East.
“Employment in the Middle East is indirect slavery; the state is announcing how they have received remittance but at what cost and in which environment do our people work in? We receive bodies of Kenyans from the Middle East almost daily. We must protect our people,” he said.
Weed out labour agencies
He urged the government to weed out labour agencies that are sourcing for jobs in the Gulf and transfer such functions to state corporations.
Meanwhile, Mr Chelugui said they have engaged their Chinese counterparts to resolve challenges, such human rights violations, facing Kenyan crew members working in fishing vessels in the Indian Ocean.
Kenya has licensed seven Chinese fishing firms to operate in its exclusive economic zone.
“The Chinese vessels is an issue that has just come around and I believe in the motivation, welfare and safety of workers. I oversee the migration of Kenyan workers and therefore will be focusing on their protection,” said Mr Chelugui.
Kenyan registered seafarers working in these vessels recently raised concerns over torture and mistreatment, including being forced to engage in illegal businesses in the ocean.
Most of them confessed to having been threatened to be thrown into the sea if they do not cooperate despite being recruited by a reputable placement agent.