The East African Trade Union Confederation (EATUC) and the East African Employers Association (EAEO) are taking the issue a notch higher by calling for the removal of all barriers in a bid to promote free movement of workers in the region.
The trade union body and the workers organisation Friday called on the EALA Speaker, Daniel F. Kidega in Arusha, Tanzania, to make a case for facilitation for freer movement.
The Chairperson of the East African Employers Association and Executive Director of the Federation of Uganda Employers, Rosemary Ssenabulya led the delegation.
The Chairperson of the East African Trade Union Confederation, Francis Atwoli was represented by Wafula Wa Musamia, a Member of the Governing Council of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU) and General Secretary of the Kenya Quarry & Mine Workers Union.
Also in attendance was the Executive Director of the Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE), Aggrey Mlimuka and senior officials of EATUC.
Present also was the Chair of EALA?s Legal Rules and Privileges Committee, Peter Mathuki and Bernard Mulengani.
In his remarks, the Speaker of EALA stated that the hopes of the citizens of the region can and will be fulfilled by the full implementation of the Common Market.
?A lot was expected following the entry of the Common Market Protocol in July 2010. While the intentions are noble and good, the outcome in terms of implementation has not lived up to our expectations. More could have been done in terms of the provisions of the free movement of persons, labour, goods, services and capital. We are hoping as an Assembly that the Protocol shall be fully enforced?, Kidega said.
The Speaker urged the EATUC and EAEO to consider petitioning the Assembly over the matter, promising that EALA will seek to address the issue. He pledged EALA?s support to the workers and promised to take collaboration with both organisations a notch higher in the short term and the long term.
On work permits, the Speaker remarked that some of the Partner States had entered into bilateral arrangements to reduce the existing permit fees and rooted for harmonisation on the part of all Partner States. ?There is need to ensure consensus across board?, Kidega said.
The Chairperson of the EAEO, Rosemary Ssenabuluya noted that employers in the region welcomed the integration process as it shores up factors of production and enables free movement across the Common Market and this was an impetus for economic growth and job creation in the region.
?Given the importance of free movement of labour, EATUC and EAEO have embarked on a process to provide joint recommendations to the governments of the EAC Partner States in order to speed up this process for the people of East Africa to feel the direct benefits of the regional integration, while respecting the need for a timeframe with adequate transitional mechanisms?, the EAEO Chair noted.
In his remarks, the General Secretary of the Kenya Quarry and Mine Workers Union, Wafula Wa Musamia lamented that the barriers to goods and free movement were hindering growth of the region.
He remarked that mobility of workers led to reallocation of competences across sectors thus promoting co-operation. He challenged Partner States to consider the abolition of work permits all together in the spirit of fostering integration.
Wa Musamia noted that Partner States were content to holding on to the issue of permits as a revenue collection base.
?There are important benefits to be reaped by increasing labour mobility and if anything, we should have work permits retained if and only it would boost data collection and not necessarily just as a revenue collection base?, he added.
The Executive Director of ATE, Dr. Aggrey Mlimuka, called for sustained effort in enhancing social dialogue and said it was important for the workers, employers and regional legislators to meet more frequently.
?In this regard, the idea of having a Memorandum of Understanding between the concerned parties (EATUC, EAEO and EALA) is more than welcome.?
Peter Mathuki stated that the workers and employers of the region formed a solid bloc in strengthening the implementation process.
?The stakeholders here today were fully involved in long hours of deliberations and discussions during the negotiations for the Common Market Protocol. We need to work more closely with them and to monitor the process as interested parties.?
The position paper states that although the Common Market Protocol was already in force, the expected benefits of the citizens were yet to fully materialise.
Partner States are yet for example to amend (harmonise) their internal work permit procedures to make provision for equal treatment to EAC citizens, as provided for under Article 12 of the said Protocol.
The position paper further states that the process of obtaining work permits is still cumbersome and bureaucratic and that the regimes, categorizations and procedures within the Partner States vary. The procedures of obtaining a work permit remain complicated in each country and the regimes seem to be considered a means of immigration control, rather than a tool for labour market regulation and integration, the report reads in part.
The paper further analyses and states discrepancies between the Common Market Protocol and the situation on the ground and such includes the work permit classes and procedures, issuing authorities, processing time, required documents and the fees charged.
In recommendations issued jointly, EATUC and EAEO propose that the processing time for handling the work permits should be shortened to a maximum of 30 days and that priority of handling the work permits be given to applications from the EAC citizens. At the same time, the organisations are pushing for the standardisation of the required documents for work permit applications.
A centralised database should also be established at the EAC regional level to capture information concerning work permit issuance and migration flows in the region.
In the long term, EATUC and EAEO call for the establishment of the national One Stop centres on tripartite basis (Employers, representatives of relevant ministries and trade union centres) as the central issuing authorities of work permits.
In April 2013, at its sitting in Kigali, Rwanda, EALA moved a Motion for a Resolution called for the abolition of work permit fees in the spirit of enhancing free movement of workers. The Motion was moved by Hon Bernard Mulengani. The Resolution urged Partner States to respect the provisions of Article 10 of the Protocol on the Establishment of the East African Community Common Market on free movement of workers.
The Resolution stated that Kenya and Rwanda had eliminated the work permit fees for citizens of the East African Community (EAC) Partner States wishing to work in those countries in line with East African community spirit to have a borderless EAC.
The Resolution further stated that the fees charged to obtain work permit vary from Partner State to another.
In Tanzania the fees range from Tshs. 10,000 (approximately $ 6.34) for peasants to USD $3000 (for the miners).
In Uganda, it ranges from USD $250 for missionaries up to USD $2500 for mining, while in Burundi from USD 60 for students to USD $84 for regular workers.
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