Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui and his Foreign Affairs counterpart Raychelle Omamo have been taken to task over the harsh treatment of Kenyans working in Gulf countries.
The National Assembly’s Committee on Labour and Social Welfare condemned the two ministries, saying they had failed to address the plight of workers.
"We are talking about Kenyans suffering....what other issues are labour attaches dealing with? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and that of Labour and Social Welfare are being blamed for failing to protect Kenyans working in Middle East,” said committee chairperson Kabiga Wachira.
“We find it difficult and unacceptable that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the PS decided not to attend to this important session. We cannot have embassies that cannot take care of its citizens."
Recently, hundreds of Kenyans working in the Middle East have recounted their experiences under cruel employers.
"It’s an issue we are taking seriously. We must sort it out immediately. We are committed to our citizens. As a country, we are not doing enough to sort out this issue. We have some gaps in attempts to resolve the issues affecting our immigrant workers. We have held meetings with recruiting agencies,” Mr Wachira said.
He said the committee had found that some recruiting agents were not complying with labour laws.
"Some of them are the cause of the afflictions affecting our citizens in Gulf countries. Our embassies are ineffective in sorting out the issues. Our embassies don't help Kenyans in distress abroad," he added.
He asked CS Chelugui to explain why Kenyans are being exploited in foreign countries.
"Why would a country like Philippines do well both in recruitment and jobs in Gulf countries? What are we lacking? We are in pain as leaders. We are cognisant of the remittance we get but we won't seat back and see our people suffering. We want a way forward. Our ladies are being tortured," he said at a committee meeting in Mombasa to deliberate on the status of Kenyan migrant workers in the Gulf countries.
Data from the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection shows that about 200,000 Kenyans work in the Middle East.
A total of about four million work abroad but only 1.5 are registered.
But speaking at the meeting, Labour and Social Welfare Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui defended his ministry from the accusations, saying Kenyans seeking jobs abroad travelled without following proper protocols.
"The biggest challenge we are facing is on home-care management. That's why we have a course syllabus on the subject, including life skills and pre-departure training,” Mr Chelugui said.
“A number of employers are majorly Muslims hence we need to train our people on the culture. In Qatar it’s (punishable) to molest or abuse any migrant workers. It’s possible for us to deal with these issues."
He acknowledged that bogus recruitment agencies exist that dupe Kenyans into working in the Middle East, warning citizens to be wary.
"In a sack of potato, there could be one that is rotten and this is the same scenario we are facing. We are vetting all agencies in collaboration with many agencies,” he said.
“There is a good group of Kenyans who get placement and come to the government for attestation and pre-departure training. Another group went there on their own and got jobs. However, they found themselves in trouble. Another team went there on the promise of greener pastures but it’s never green. Some of our Kenyans have bad intentions."
He said that many Kenyans, including teachers, cleaners, drivers, and hoteliers, are doing well in Gulf countries.
The CS also blamed recruitment agencies charging Kenyans for jobs abroad.
"They are doing it illegally," he said.
He said Kenya needs more labour attaches in the Middle East countries.
"The embassy is overwhelmed. Labour is a serious issue we need to invest in it. Let’s not be penny-wise and pound-foolish.