On seeing adverts about juicy jobs in Dubai, some Ugandans rush to apply. They hastily go through the process without even reading the terms and conditions. Once there, they realise that it was a raw deal after all. Moses Okuraja and Carol Natukunda bring you some of the experiences of Ugandan migrant workers
With a degree in business administration, Joseph Kayuki, 28, expected to get a good job. However, on reaching Dubai, where he was taken by a recruitment company, he discovered that he had been hired to do manual jobs such as loading and offloading bags at the airport. He works 12 hours a day and earns a monthly salary of $200 (about sh500,000).
About a third of this money is deducted for food. In a city where the cost of living is high, Kayuki soon realised that with $200, he could not even save money to buy an air ticket to return home to see his wife and two children. He says for over a year he has tirelessly worked in Dubai, he has not saved any money.
Kayuki is an example of the many university graduates who have been taken by local recruitment agencies, only to realise later that they are trapped into doing jobs they did not expect to do such as working as porters, cleaners and security guards.
Joshua Kampororo, a 26-year-old graduate from Kyambogo University, is another example.
"Although the company claims to take care of our accommodation and meals, we virtually eat and sleep like goats," he says.
Sunday Vision toured two of the camps at Alqous and Sonapur, where Ugandan migrant workers reside. One small room is occupied by six double-decker beds, implying that it is occupied by 12 people. The Ugandan workers complained that much as the employment agencies claim to be providing meals for them, the food is actually not free.
"Can you imagine that out of the meagre 700 Dirhams (sh470,000) that we are supposedly paid, the company deducts 260 Dirhams (about sh168,000) to buy for us unpalatable food," Juma Kalanzi, a porter, said.
How do they get there?
According to almost all the labourers Sunday Vision talked to, information about the so-called juicy jobs in the UAE is obtained from flashy adverts placed in newspapers and radio stations. These adverts in the media raise the hopes of unsuspecting Ugandans.
"Without a second thought, you believe that God has finally financially "smiled upon you," says Justine Nakimbugwe, who works in the UAE as a nanny for her boss' puppies.
On arrival at any of the recruitment agency's offices, one is asked to pay a non-refundable registration fee of sh50,000. Thereafter, registered members are asked to get a medical fitness test at the medical clinic of the recruitment agency's choice. The medical test bill is squarely paid by the recruits.
The immigrants are tested for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis A and B.
Apparently, the UAE does not employ HIV positive workers from abroad.
Once the medical results are approved by the agency's physician, the recruits-to-be then receive a phone call congratulating them for having passed the first phase of the recruitment process.
At this point, the recruits are required to raise the fees for, among other things, air ticket and a commission for the agencies. The amount paid as commission ranges between sh2m to sh4m, depending on the company one approaches for the jobs.
Having passed the medical test along with all the required money, all recruits are then invited for written interviews.
As soon as one honours their financial obligations for a particular job, they sign a contract. The mistake many of them make is to excitedly sign the agreement without reading the terms and conditions of the jobs.
Workers also claim that they were verbally promised that they would earn between $1,000 and $1,200, but once they got to UAE, they were paid between 800 Dirhams (about sh540,000) and 1,000 Dirhams (about 670,000), and not dollars as they had been promised.
The recruits claim that nothing is revealed to them about a system referred to as KAFALA or sponsorship scheme, whereby nationals or companies in the Middle East are allowed to make migrant workers dependent on them for food and shelter.
Many workers complain that agencies confiscate their passports and they also hire them out in the Gulf on two-year contracts. Although legislation among countries in the Gulf region differs - with some without any legislation at all - most states require workers to give three months' notice before resigning.
A letter of resignation is all that is officially required to obtain a release, but for many working under the KAFALA system, that is not the case.
But Alex Byarugaba, the chairperson of the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs says: "It is not that everyone who goes to Dubai is being exploited. There are those who are rightfully employed and are happy."
Similarly, a number of agencies that recruit workers for jobs in Dubai deny mistreating workers.
Bernard Kamande, the East African contact manager for Transguard Company in an email said: "I am not aware of anything unless you tell me the people who have been mistreated."
Likewise, Security Link, another recruitment company, denied the claims of exploitation.
"Everyone signs contracts before they go. We ask them to read the contracts and know how much they are entitled to before they sign. There are different jobs and each has its own category of pay," said an official who identified herself only as Rahmad.
Labour ministry can do better
Workers MP Dr. Sam Lyomoki is not surprised by the revelation. He blames the Government for not coming out strongly to ensure that there is a body to register migrant workers.
"We are aware of the problems happening to our people. We have been urging the Government to put up a directive such that when workers are going out, we have their names, their contact details and passport or identification. We would also have details of who recruited them, so that when there is a problem, we know where to start," said Lyomoki.
Lyomoki argued that there was also need by the labour ministry to sensitise the migrant workers, who often comprise of desperate unemployed youth.
Government to probe claims
Uganda has a foreign diplomatic mission based in Abudhabi. One of this embassy's diplomatic roles is to safeguard all Ugandans working in the UAE against any form of exploitation.
In an attempt to verify reports about the reportedly exploited Ugandan migrant workers, a parliamentary select committee on foreign affairs headed by the vice chairperson, Hood Katuramu, recently travelled to Dubai to see first-hand what was happening.
They got the chance to meet a cross-section of Ugandans who relayed the current state of exploitation meted on them by the labour supply companies in Dubai. The committee chairperson, Alex Byarugaba, says they will soon present a report on the plenary session of Parliament for debate and find solutions to the problems that were discovered. Byarugaba declined to divulge details of their findings.
The foreign affairs permanent secretary, Ambassador James Mugume, said: "Kindly give us the information if you have it. We often hear of those stories, but only in passing. We do not have sufficient intelligence in those areas."