• While unemployment in Kenya is high, thus the need to seek employment elsewhere, Kenyans must be cautious and ensure they do not end up in modern day slavery.
• The government must also ensure the rights of all Kenyan migrant workers are respected.
This week, the parliamentary committee on Labour received oral and written submissions from members of the public on the plight of Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.
Stakeholders from across the country were present to share their views and testimonies on what they think should be done to bring sanity to a sector that is marred with allegations of gross human rights abuses, including modern day slavery.
The committee itself had already gathered a lot of information after undertaking various visits to see first hand what was happening in the Gulf countries.
They had good knowledge of the trials and tribulations that Kenyans go through when they seek employment in this part of the world. These issues were many and key among them included the fact that the workers are subjected to unbearable working conditions. Victims said some of them are forced to work for over 18 hours a day and are expected to clean exceptionally big houses with no assistance at all.
In other cases, victims complained of sexual harassment and indecent assault by their male employers. The sexual cases then end up with some of the workers being killed or seriously injured by spouses of the perpetrators, who believe it’s the worker who attracted the sexual advances.
In other cases, the entire family’s male members prey on the female worker for sex, leaving her helpless not knowing what to do. Allegations of rape were also levelled against Kenyan Embassy officials and recruitment agents alike.
Other victims lamented denial of freedom of worship.
Owing to the huge workload and long working hours, Muslim victims said they never get time to practice their religion, including going for Friday prayers.
For the non-Muslim, they stated they worked even on Sundays, thus leaving them with no time to worship. In Saudi Arabia, the weekend is on Thursday and Friday so Sunday is very much a weekday and all are expected to be working. This means they get no time to worship.
There were also allegations of employers not respecting and keeping to the contractual terms of employment, even after workers present to them contracts signed with the recruitment agents.
In many cases, workers lamented of being given different, lower cadre jobs than those promised/signed for with agents in Kenya. Most of the victims were aggrieved that the duties explained to them at the time of signing the contracts were not the same as those offered by the employers when they report to work.
Claims of denial of food and/or only being offered small quantities to only ensure their survival were also made. In other situations, there are those who were either given left overs or were provided with very little to cook on their own.
When they complain, the workers said their employers physically assault them or subject them to even less food rations. The employers would tell them that they came to the foreign country to work and not to eat. They should thus stop complaining about food.
There are cases of victims being thrown out of three or four story buildings for complaining about some of the working conditions. As such, most of the workers choose to suffer in silence for fear of mistreatment.
Some employers lock the employees inside the house day and night. So it becomes extremely difficult to seek assistance when in danger. In the rare case that one is able to escape, they do not have travel documents since immediately upon arrival in the foreign land, their passports and personal effects, including cell phones, are seized by their employers.
While it is true that unemployment in Kenya is rife, thus the need to seek employment elsewhere, Kenyans must be cautious and ensure they do not end up in modern day slavery.
The government must ensure the rights of all Kenyan migrant workers are respected. Many are suffering today and it is hoped that through the parliamentary committee on Labour, concrete recommendations will be presented and implemented to protect Kenyan migrant workers.