Call from social partners: Open up the EAC (East African Community) job market

East African Employers and Workers Organizations join forces and urge politicians to remove barriers on free movement of labour within the region.

The Employers and Workers of East Africa grouped under their umbrella regional apex bodies namely the East African Trade Union Confederation and the East African Employers Organization welcome the regional integration process because this will facilitate factors of production to move freely across a common market within the EAC.

The implementation of the Common Market Protocol is a driving force for economic growth and job creation in the region. The free movement of workers is equally important to the EAC integration process as free movement of goods and capital. However, although the EAC CMP has been in place for 4 years (since July 2010) following its ratification by all Partner States, the expected benefits for EAC citizens are yet to fully materialise.

Partner States have not yet harmonized their internal work permit procedures to make room for provisions of equal treatment to EAC citizens, as provided for by article 12 of the CMP and the EAC Common Market Regulations on free movement of workers, Annex 2, regulation 6, subsection 9, whereby each country agreed to harmonise its internal labour policies, laws and programmes to facilitate free movement of labour within the Community to provide for equal treatment to EAC citizens before the end of 2015.The EATUC and EAEO note with concern that the implementation of the provisions on Free Movement of Labour as provided for in the CMP has registered relatively painstakingly slow progress thus the dream of a full regional integration as envisaged in the CMP is far off. The process of issuing work permit has not been harmonised as evidenced the still differing work permit categorisations , the fees charged, the processing procedures and most alarmingly, the permit classes do not distinguish between EAC citizens and nationals of other countries outside the EAC Region.

Fact box 1

On 30th November 1999, the EAC Partner States signed the Treaty establishing the East African Community. The Treaty in article 5, paragraph 2 states that the EAC Partner States shall undertake to establish among themselves a Customs Union, a Common Market; subsequently a Monetary Union and ultimately a Political Federation. The Common Market Protocol (CMP) which came into force on 1st July 2010 holds provisions on free movement of persons, labour, services, capital and goods across the EAC. The EAC Common Market aims to achieve widening and deepening cooperation among the Partner States in the economic and social fields for the benefit of the Partner States. The free mobility of labour is an important component as it not only leads to macro-economic benefits but also is a very tangible benefit of regional integration. In other words, it is a right which the EAC citizens feel directly when looking for new job opportunities. Employers benefit from the free labour mobility by having better chances of matching job requirements with skills and qualifications when recruiting new employees, thus improving productivity and efficiency.
Therefore, there are important benefits to be reaped by increasing labour mobility on both an economic and an individual level. In addition, there are gains to be made at the cultural level as cross border movement of workers will be an important means to demonstrate the benefits of regional integration which is still met with scepticism by parts of the populations of the Member States. One of the key challenges for further integration is the lack of popular support and mobilization for the regional integration process. Better opportunities for job-seekers are a very visible benefit for the individual, and working together with other EAC citizens will increase the sense of mutual benefits and diminish myths about other nationalities, thus paving the way for a people centred and marked driven integration necessary for the eventual realisation of the vision for having a political federation in EAC.

This has a direct impact on furthering the free movement of workers as most employers are not able to freely access the skilled labour they need to match qualification requirements. Likewise, workers are still not able to compete for the regional job market due to the hassles surrounding the application process and issuance of work permits across the EAC.This shows that implementation of the Common Market Protocol has been slow indeed. It is clear that the implementation of the Common Market Protocol, although having registered some progress in certain regards, still have a long way to go before its benefits can be fully enjoyed, and probably there is a need to allow for a time frame with adequate transitional mechanisms. However, implementation should take a serious new beginning now.

It is against this backdrop that the EATUC and the EAEO and the constituencies of affiliated national trade union centres and employers’ organizations are hereby urging the political decision makers in East Africa to increase the speed of regional integration by removing barriers for the free movement of workers across borders within the EAC. It is time for the people of East Africa to feel the direct benefit of the regional integration.

Fact box 2:
With a potential outreach of more than 8,500 companies and business entities and 100 associations and chambers affiliated to national employers organizations and more than 2.5 million workers organized in unions affiliated to the national trade union centers, the EATUC and EAEOconstituencies of are made of affiliated national trade union centres and employers’ organizations namely the Confédération des Syndicats du Burundi (COSYBU) and Association of Employers of Burundi (AEB) in Burundi, the Central Organization of Trade Unions (Kenya) (COTU-K) and Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) in Kenya, Centrale des Syndicats des Travailleurs du Rwanda (CESTRAR) and Private Sector Federation (PSF) in Rwanda, the Trade Unions Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA) and the Association of Tanzania Employers (ATE) in Tanzania, National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) and Federation of Uganda Employers (FUE) in Uganda, Zanzibar Trade Union Congress (ZATUC) and Zanzibar Employers Association (ZANEMA) in Zanzibar

and EAEO are jointly recommending the following urgent courses of action to be initiated by the governments of the EAC Partner States, Excellent Heads of States when meeting in the EAC Summit, the EAC Council of Ministers, the East African Legislative Assembly and the EAC Secretariat along with other competent organs of the EAC:

Short- term recommendations

i. Processing time for the handling of work permits should beshortened, to a maximum of 30 days.

ii. Required documents for work permit applications shouldbe standardized and made uniform throughout the EAC region.

iii. A revised version of Annex II of the CMP should be put in place when the current one expires in 2015. The new annex on implementation of free movement of workers should be put in place through a tri-partite mechanism at the EAC regional level and should be administered at national level through tripartite forums.

iv. All special requirements outside the provisions of the CMP such as requirements of minimum annual salary income level or age limit should be removed immediately.

v. Simple versions of the CMP documents should be created and even translated into common local languages in order to raise awareness among the people of East Africa about the benefits of free movement of labour.

vi. Monitoring and evaluation of progress in the implementation of the Common Market Protocol should be improved by Partner States adhere to the requirements and guidelines of EAC monitoring and Implementation Framework. Collection and validation of disaggregated data should be improved by inviting employers ‘organizations and national trade union centers and other relevant stakeholders on board the National Implementations Committee (NIC). Furthermore the EAC Scorecard should in future include progress on implementation of the CMP provisions on free movement of labour

vii. A centralized data-base should be established at the EAC regional level to capture information concerning work permit issuance and migration flows within the region as well as in and out of the region based on up-dated statistic information from the Partner States. Up to date statistics are key to developing policies and for securing implementation of a common labour market.

Long -term recommendations

EAEO and EATUC vision is that work permits should not be a prerequisite for free movement of workers in the EAC region; however the following recommendations need to be considered to achieve this vision:

i. Work permit classes shouldbe standardized and come with a comprehensive regional work permit standard regime for Partner States to customize as per their national laws.

ii. Issuing authorities of work permits: A one-stop Desk Centers should be established on tri-partite basis composed of representatives from relevant ministries, employer’s organizations and trade union centers and other relevant stakeholders.

iii. Work Permit Fees should beabolished for EAC citizens in the spirit of oneness and for furthering the regional integration and to institute equal treatment of EAC citizens and even preferential treatment compared to other foreign workers in order to make the benefits of regional integration real and tangible for workers and employers within the region.

Besides recommending actions to be taken in securing easy issuance of work permits for EAC citizens, EATUC and EAEO also recommend that action be taken to secure the portability of social security benefits across borders in the EAC region, for implementing common identity cards to be used as travel documents and for amending national employment policies and labour legislation in a process of gradual approximation and harmonization in order to secure the rights of workers in the EAC region no matter if they reside and work in their country of origin or in another Partner State.

In conclusion, the EAEO and EATUC recommend and urge the East African Legislative Assembly, the EAC Council of Ministers, the EAC Summit as well as the Heads of State and national Governments and Authorities in the EAC Partner States to fulfil the vision of creating an East African Common Market by implementing the provisions already agreed upon in the Common Market Protocol. This in the first place demands for political leadership and commitment and for availing the budget funds necessary for furthering the EAC integration process, inclusive the realization of the free movement of workers across the region. It is time for the EAC as well as national governments across the region to honour their commitments and take all necessary steps and measures to mainstream the EAC Regional Integration Programmes and commitments into the national policies, plans, programs and budgets.

To secure progress in implementation of the CMP provisions at national level, EAEO and EATUC support the idea that the EAC should institute a mechanism of sanctions against Partner States that institute Non-Tariff Barriers (NTB Bill).EAEO and EATUC also urge all relevant regional and national stakeholders from civil society and private sector to continue to lobby and advocate prodding the EAC Secretariat and national governments to speed up the process for implementing the provisions of the common market protocol.

Article provided by the EATUC