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Challenges facing Migrant Workers during the Pandemic

Feb 03, 2021
Category: Labour Migration

On 21st January 2021, employers, business and government leaders convened to consider business perspectives in the region on migration challenges and opportunities for partnership and policy for economic recovery and rejuvenation.
Mrs. Jacqueline Mugo, the Executive Director Federation of Kenya Employers and Secretary General BUSINESSAfrica Employers’ Confederation while speaking during the Global Forum on Migration and Development noted that the risk of spreading the Covid-19 virus across national and regional borders is the hardest migration challenge that Kenya and Africa faces.

“This is compounded by lack of an integrated and coordinated regional Covid-19 response framework and approach to test and contain the spread of the virus. Furthermore, the regional governments have no efficient coordinated system of monitoring, tracing and managing cases of Covid-19,” said Mrs. Mugo.

This has led to restrictions, delays and inefficiencies in movement of goods and people across borders bringing with it unnecessary losses and human suffering.

She also noted the atmosphere of uncertainty, fear and panic among people including the international tourists, business people and migrant workers who rightly or wrongly have a feeling that the region is not well equipped to guarantee their safety in the wake of covid-19 pandemic. The Covid-19 infections threaten to overpower the region’s healthcare systems. This has led to a sharp decline in international arrivals and a mass exodus of migrant workers resulting into a near collapse of the hospitality and tourism sector among other. For example, in Kenya the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics report in 2020, shows that the tourism sector lost Kshs. 80 Billion (800 million USD) in tourism revenue between March and June 2020. Moreover, lack of adequate testing and safety equipment in the region increases the risk of transmission and puts all at the risk of losing even more people.

International travel restrictions reduced travel in and out of the country not only for business and recreation but also for migrant workers to visit their families. This has had an adverse impact on the air transport sector as well as associated industries with, for example, the national carrier, Kenya Airways appealing for government bailout to be able to resume operations. In a bid to cut costs and stay afloat, the aviation industry had to cut about 75% of the jobs to minimize cost due to a near total grounding of flights. In addition, the migrant workers who are not able to meet their loved ones for long bear psychological pain.


What are the proposed solutions for these?
  1. A long - term comprehensive coordinated regional framework and approaches that involve testing and monitoring as well as isolation of positive cases needs to be designed by regional partners. Working together as Governments, Private sector e.t.c  to contain the spread of the virus
  2. Collaboration between government and the industry players to ensure safety guidelines/protocols are put in place, including contact tracing and reliable test facilities.
  3. Better testing facilities at border points would reduce delays and ensure smooth flow of goods to boost regional trade.
  4. An integrated migration management strategy with a coordinated approach to Covid-19 response protocols to help safe, orderly and unrestricted legal movement of people across the region. This will not only alleviate the suffering of migrant workers but will also boost regional trade and accelerate the recovery of tourism, hospitality and aviation industries.
How can businesses and governments collaborate concretely in those solutions to recover from COVID-time in Kenya or the region?

  1. Formation of regional multi-agency post covid-19 recovery taskforce/committee comprising government, social partners, regional economic communities and regional bodies. Enterprises through the employers’ organizations such as BUSINESSAfrica Employers’ Confederation, are well placed to be at the fore front of these. The regional taskforce can also be cascaded from Continental (African Union) level to RECs level and State Level, with clear communication engagement structures and channels.
  2. Through a seamless electronic database system that allows for real time exchange of data, containment of cases would be enhanced and allow for a faster resumption of cross border trading and movement of persons and goods.
  3. Covid 19 will require financing for governments to be able to address it. Therefore, strategic partnerships with financial institutions both locally and internationally to not only secure funding but also structure funding in line with the cash flow challenges among enterprises and state governments. Government involvement would be a guarantee for the funding and can take advantage of existing diplomatic as well as bilateral and multilateral relations with the said institutions for the benefit of the businesses. For example, this would give, the airline industry in Kenya a much-needed boost, having been among the worst hit by the pandemic and having lost around Kshs.13B (13million USD) by October 2020.
Generally, there is need for better collaborations, funding, and bringing all elements across borders to be able to fight the pandemic. Employers called for long term solutions for the migration challenges that have been exacerbated by Covid-19. Additionally, building the skills of the migrant workers within our economies so that they are recognized and are able to work under the same terms as the natives.
Others present; International Organization of Migration (IOM), International Organization of Employers (IOE) and other Business Member Organizations like Business South Africa.


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