Tuesday, 16 January 2018


Kampala, Uganda- Southern and Eastern African Trade, Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI-Uganda) is asking the Uganda government to go slow on revising the work permit system in light of dispensing the requirement for Kenyans and Rwandans.

Recent news reports have been awash with reports about Uganda’s scrapping work permit fees for Kenyans and Rwandans.

This move is in line with the commitments made by the East African Community(EAC) partner states; Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi andTanzania in the signing and launch of the EAC Common Market Protocol on July 1, 2010 to promote the free movement of labour across the region.

It is expected that this process will enable movement of labour from areas of surplus to areas of scarcity where it is better paid.

Since the launch of the Protocol high work permit fees have been fronted as a major challenge to realization of the free movement of workers, and activists have been agitating for their removal.

The move by Uganda is therefore timely and an achievement in promoting regional integration especially since both Rwanda and Kenya scrapped these fees five years ago.

However in order for Ugandans to benefit from the free movement of workers, there is need to tread carefully especially given the skills gaps in the market and focus on addressing internal productivity challenges.

The recent launch of the labour information system is a strong achievement for Uganda in this regard and should be expedited.

There is need to expedite curriculum reforms on skilling. Presently focus is on vocational training; however the skilling of university graduates should also be a priority as the areas proposed regionally for liberalisation are those of formal professionals.

Formulation of a labour productivity policy is important to guide on skilling and establishing productivity parameters to address claims by employers about Ugandan workers being less productive than their counterparts in the region. This claim, although unproven, could result in job losses by Ugandan workers to entrants from the region.

In this regard it is creditworthy that Uganda has not yet decided on the specific professions for which the work permits have been scrapped, because it is important to only open up those areas where Ugandan workers can favourably compete both internally and regionally.

It should also be noted that while Kenya and Rwanda waived work permit fees they proceeded to institutionalize barriers to accessing the permits.

For example in Kenya one has to be 35 years and above and have an income of $24,000 ( about Ush 6,912,000) to be legible for a work permit.

There are also administrative and bureaucratic delays involved. Uganda should consider these barriers as she makes commitments on issuing work permits.

The coordination and portability of social security benefits has also not been concluded regionally.

Currently workers are unable to access their social security benefits when they leave one country for another. This discourages movement of workers. The EAC should address these barriers for successful movement of workers.

Overall, there is need to create more jobs internally and regionally for both Ugandan and regional workers.

The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development notes that while 400,000 graduates enter the job market annually there are only 9000 jobs created annually. Similarly statistics show that projects registered at the Uganda Investment Authority annually only create about 150,000jobs.

Worse still, in Uganda up to 60% of infant businesses don’t live beyond their second birthday owing to various challenges facing the business sector. As a result, although investment is on the rise, it is not matched by rise in employment creation.

It is thus important for the country to review investment laws to facilitate growth of infant industries, as well as to ensure that investments result in forward and backward linkages that increase decent and productive employment.

Source: East African Business Week

Date: 2nd March 2015


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