The African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation
(ITUC-Africa) has called for a probe into the circumstances leading to the death of 89 Kenyan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia in the last two years.
ITUC-AFRICA which is the umbrella Union of workers in Africa said the circumstances leading to the death of the workers is “suspicious”, adding that the staggering number of deaths is deeply troubling.
It said the disturbing information is contained in a recent report submitted to the Kenyan National Assembly by the Foreign Affairs Ministry of that country.
In a statement on Friday by its General Secretary, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah,
ITUC-Africa said this sad development affirms concerns of a protracted abusive and exploitative practices perpetrated against Africans in Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries.
The regional workers’ body said migrant workers, most especially domestic workers, in Saudi Arabia routinely suffer abuses that are mostly derived from the practices of the Kafala System, under which workers are tied to a single employer who alone can renew or terminate their residency and work status in the country.
It said, aside from experiencing forced and bonded labour, excessive working hours, delayed and denied wages as well as verbal and physical abuse, migrant workers have their passports regularly confiscated by abusive employers who act with impunity.
The statement reads in part: “We have it on record that Saudi authorities have told their Kenyan counterparts that most of the deaths of the 89 Kenyan workers were from cardiac arrest. ITUC-Africa finds
this cause of such a high number of deaths improbable and suspicious.
“This appears to us to be a smokescreen to conceal the heinous conditions under which these innocent workers died. Besides, the Saudi authorities did not state any measures they have initiated or deployed to reduce this alarming occurrence.
“ITUC-Africa is therefore calling for an independent investigation into these suspicious deaths. As minimum measures to curtail abuse and exploitation of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia and the entire Middle East, ITUC-Africa joins the Kenyan labour movement under the umbrella of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions -COTU (K), in calling for the clamping down on recruitment agencies that do not meet the minimum requirements of an employment agency. We ask that the relevant Kenyan authorities continue to work at improving the regulation of the labour recruitment agency market in the country to rid it of corrupt and criminal-minded operators.”
The ITUC-Africa said it supports the call of COTU-Kenya to the Kenyan government to assist in solving this issue, by among other things, to: Consider championing the establishment of an African Labour Migration Governance Process similar to the Colombo Process that the Asian governments are using to further employment relations in the labour migration interface with the Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) States and the larger Middle East; explore its participation in the Abu Dhabi Dialogue (ADD) space to amplify the call for the reform of the kafala system akin to the inclusive, collaborative and effective manner that the Qatar State has undertaken.