After parliament recently lifted a four-year ban that imposed on overseas employment, travel agencies and jobseekers are seizing this opportunity. With 41 new travel agencies and agreements for the rights of employees, more and more are looking at job opportunities in the Middle East. Reports BETHLEHEM BAHRAN, FORTUNE STAFF WRITER.
It was not an easy decision for Getenet Tesfaye to invest almost four million Birr in opening a new travel agency. The agency that will arrange job opportunities for Ethiopians seeking to work in the Middle East.
It has now been almost three months since he opened his company, Bokshan Employment Agency, in Sebeta, Oromia Regional State. With the aim of sending Ethiopians to Saudi Arabia for employment. However, his company has not started operations yet.
For a business person like Getenet, the amount he invested means that the company will be stable for months without generating revenue.
“It is now three months since I obtained a license,” he said. “But have not started as we are still waiting for the green light to begin operation. After the country finalises the agreement with the Middle East countries, we will send recruits.”
He has been taking continuous training provided by the regional state’s Labour & Social Affairs Bureau. Bokshan is one of the 41 businesses licensed by the government to recruit Ethiopians for job opportunities in the Middle Eastern countries.
These companies received their license after the four-year ban imposed on overseas employment, which was lifted by parliament recently. Back then about the doors of 406 operational agents closed their doors.
Before the ban, hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians travelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Dubai seeking employment. Close to half a billion individuals have flown to the Middle Eastern countries before 2013, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
The ban was necessary as many Ethiopians have lost their lives or underwent physical and psychological trauma as a result of human trafficking. Along with the misery of mental and physical torture, the domestic workers flagged abuse, including rape and torture.
“Even though the constitution grants freedom of working in an environment, a government is needed to ensure citizens’ rights,” said Zerihun Yeshitla, illegal labour recruitment prevention team leader, at the Ministry of Labour & Social Affairs (MoLSA). “The ban was to ensure their well-being.”
A prominent lawyer Million Assefa agrees with Zerihun’s idea.
“An absolute right does not exist,” Million said. “The life of the citizen cannot be neglected to keep the rights of others” added Million.
However, the ban did not block the travellers heading to these countries. Many have risked their lives trying to reach these countries, via war-torn Yemen, and risk a perilous boat trip across the Gulf of Aden.
Though the unemployment rate has shown a slight decline, it still stands at 16pc in 2015, according to the Central Statistical Agency (CSA).
Here is where the government started negotiations with the Middle Eastern countries, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, to sign a labour exchange agreement. The agreement includes guard against ill-treatment and protecting human rights of workers.
After protracted negotiations and proceedings, the government lifted the four-year ban on January 30, 2018.
Before lifting the ban, MoLSA had been working on a capacity building. Developing institutional structures, legal framework and forming a human resource, according to Zerihun.
Consequently, with the new move, MoLSA has started registering agencies which will facilitate overseas employment for local domestic workers. To regulate the agencies, MoLSA has issued new binding laws and regulation that are stricter than the one that was effective four years ago.
The new law drafted for the recruitment agencies includes allowing them to process the cases of the travellers at a regional level, nailing the previous procedure which requires that job seekers need to come to the capital.
As for the agencies in order to start recruiting workers for overseas employment, a minimum of 46sqm office in Addis Abeba, with plans of branching out to regional states is also required.
An applicant agency is obliged to cover the medical treatment expenses of the employees if they return injured or without receiving their salary. As a guarantee, the agencies are required to deposit an equivalent amount of 100,000 dollars in Birr in a block account aside from the one million Birr registered capital.
The owner or manager of the agency would need to have a first degree and three years of experience in management. They must also have a representative in the other country and facilitate temporary accommodation that includes housing and meal to the recruits.
After fulfilling these requirements and going through the procedures, Getenet of Bokshan opened his office in Hawassa located in the Southern Nations, Nationalities & Peoples Region (SNNP). Securing the license from the Ministry of Trade (MoT).
Getenet, however, has limitations as the new bill only allows three types of employment; caregiving, household service, and domestic health care.
The recruits will be given training before leaving the country. For the training, the Ministry has opened a Technical, Vocational Education & Training (TEVT) in five regional states. The schools give free short-term training in two categories, pre-departure skills such as checking, departure and arrival time, and the second categories being training on caregiving, household service and domestic health. They will also be given Center of Excellence (COC) exam.
MoLSA opened seven TVETs in Tigray; 11 in Amhara; 27 in Oromia, 12 in SNNP and one in both Dire Dawa and Addis Abeba. To be registered at the institutions, a recruit must be 18 plus years old and has completed elementary school.
The training centres in the Tigray Region have already sent a report to the ministry stating 99 students passed the COC. And these students are now waiting to start the process once the agencies become operational.
The new strict procedures seem discouraging for the agencies looking to apply for a license. Almost all of the 41 agencies, which is ten folds lower than the previous number, are new.
Yednekachew Fikre and Eman Kyar, owners of Ker Agency and Nobil-Arsoma Agency, respectively, are among the 41 businesses who fulfilled all the documents and criteria required to secure their licenses. Ker Agency secured their license after a six months long process, while Nobil-Arsoma Agency secured theirs after an eight months process.
“I have witnessed most of my friends’ lives change which is why I have decided to start the business, conceding its profitability,” said Yednekachew.
Though the process of sending the recruits has not started, many job seekers from different parts of the country are flocking to the capital to apply for a passport. Long queues are seen at the gate of the Ethiopian Immigration & Nationality Affairs main Department.
Sisay Legassa, 32, a photographer owning a small shop in front of the Immigration for the past four years witnesses this.
“The number of individuals who come here increased drastically after the Easter holiday [beginning of April],” he told Fortune. Adding that many of them visit his shop for photocopy services and photographs for a fingerprint assessment at the police station.
Services needed by people like Semira Hassen, 27, and her sister who decline to be named. They are among those who were at the Immigration to apply for a passport. The sisters were at the Immigration Affairs premises on the afternoon of April 18, 2018, coming from Arsi, Oromia Regional State.
Semira’s family consists of three daughters, two of which have attended school. However, the eldest decided to travel to the Middle East to support her family financially.
“We allocated 7,000 Br to 10,000 Br for the entire process,” Samira told Fortune.
Currently, Ethiopia has already signed a labour exchange agreement with Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. The agreement with Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates is still in the process.
Before the agencies start facilitating overseas employment, individuals like that of Shiber Taklu, 24, who was born and raised in Gonder, are using their ways to get employed. Shiber’s sister who lives in Dubai sent her an invitation with a wish to get her sister hired at her employer’s house.
“Now I am on medical checkups to finalise my visa process,” said Shiber, who has been working as a housemaid in Addis Abeba for the past five years.
For Mehari Redai (PhD), an international trade and labour law lecturer at Addis Abeba Universty (AAU), he fears the effect of the new proclamation could be insufficient as it might not apply to the Middle Eastern countries.
“The detail agreements have to have a minimum term of reference from the proclamation to bind the countries,” recommends Mehari.
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