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State clears way for Kenyans to work in Saudi Arabia



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The government has allowed Saudi Arabia to start recruiting Kenyan domestic workers again.

Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani said the decision follows the signing of a bilateral agreement in 2017, paving the way for structured recruitment.

Agencies must now take workers’ details and submit data on the employers.

Although the 2014 ban was lifted in 2017, the government insisted on re-vetting recruitment agencies first.

On Wednesday, officials from the Labour ministries met in Riyadh and agreed to reopen recruitment and start implementing the clauses in the pact.

Mr Yatani told the Nation that jobseekers can now look for employment in Saudi Arabia, saying, the government is satisfied with the new reforms.

Only 100 out of the 1,000 agencies that applied for registration met the requirements after vetting.

“We signed a bilateral agreement where terms of employment, rights and privileges are negotiated and agreed,” he said.

In addition to a minimum wage, other welfare issues, such as free housing, health insurance, transport and food are negotiated and agreed on.

Recruitment agencies are supposed to facilitate a “comprehensive pre-departure curriculum and training”, which includes basic training in language, culture and laws of Saudi Arabia.

The Labour ministry puts Kenyan domestic workers in Middle East country at 130,000.

In the past, some bosses insisted on jobseekers signing contracts written in Arabic.

They also forced workers to surrender their travel documents and hardly allowed them any leave in the first two years of employment.

In addition, some employees complained of torture or delayed pay while others died mysteriously.

A statement from Saudi Labour and Social Development ministry, which was published in the Saudi Gazette, said that both countries will now operate within a legal framework that enhances “co-operation between the two parties, to protect the rights of both employers and domestic workers and regulate their contractual relationship.”

The reopening of recruitment could still be fraught with problems. Kenyan workers have previously complained that the embassy in Riyadh has little capacity to help those in distress, especially if they are working in another city.

On Friday, Mr Yatani acknowledged the problem, but said new measures will be put in place within a year.

“We now have a Labour attaché at our mission in Riyadh to handle labour-related issues and going forward, we intend to have additional attachés in the other major cities,” he told the Nation on e-mail.

“We also plan to establish a fund for the welfare of the migrants — Migrant Workers Welfare Fund — to assist migrants in distress.”

In addition, he said, the government will establish ‘safe houses’ in selected destination countries to temporarily house distressed workers.