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COVID-19: Challenges, Lessons and way forward for the Labour Externalization Industry in Uganda

Earlier on at the start of this year, on our television sets and off our mobile phones, we watched and followed with the simple keenness of spectators observing from a far the events of a novel coronavirus that would soon be called Covid-19 unfolding.

The fear we felt, if any, was far-fetched even as the pictures that came out of Wuhan city, the epicentre of the virus, grew darker and grimmer.
Soon, the magnitude of the spread of the virus would reach epic proportions as the virus made its way to Europe burning down and overwhelming health care systems we all till then thought were stellar. The disease ravaged Italy, trod on Spain and soon enough shifted its epicentre to the United States of America catching them in half-sleep with a wobbly Health care system infrastructure. All along, while this was happening, despite the scare-mongering of really important people of authority such as the philanthropic Bill Gates prophesying that the effect of the virus on Africa would be of biblical proportions such as not seen before, we were steadfast in upholding the myth that the virus does not “catch” Africans. How wrong we were.

Our first brush with the reality of the Covid-19 disease would come on the 21st of March 2020. A 36 year old Ugandan returning from a business trip to Dubai was screened at the Entebbe International Airport and found to be positive with the new virus. This patient zero would be the first of many casting the country into a series of measures against the disease and the advent of a new normal.

Didas of Forbes Enterprises Limited

Amongst the measures the government undertook to combat the Covid-19 virus was the decision to shut down all entry points into the country including the Entebbe International Airport and all land borders with neighbouring countries. Along with this measure was the ban on in-land movement by the public.

These measures adversely affected the Recruitment and Externalization of Labour industry. Particularly, the closure of the boarders, the airspace and the ban on movement affected aspects of the Recruitment process such as Registration, Interviews, Visa dispensation, and Deployment. At the time of instituting the above stringent measures curtailing movement within and without the country, many international Recruitment companies had flown their interviewers into the country to conduct recruitment interviews on their behalf and as such couldn’t fly them out soon enough.
These interviewers amassed more expenses owing to the protracted stay in the country a charge that the local recruitment companies would eventually incur. At the same time, most of the scheduled interviews with potential recruits could not take place because the candidates for the interviews could not make it to the scheduled appointments because of the lockdown. . The ramifications of the pandemic have not only affected the recruitment companies but have also the finances of our clients and sponsors have been depleted. The majority of the candidates who had taken out loans to facilitate there travel, will undoubtedly fall behind on their obligations with their respective lenders.

The fate of those already deployed for duty abroad either is not any different. Most companies abroad were forced to send most staff on forced leave with half pay which has caused enormous pressure on our migrant workers to provide for their families back home in these past few weeks.
Sliver Lining and way forward.
In all of this, the ray of hope is that with every waking day we inch closer to returning to some semblance of normalcy or should we say adjusting to the new normal. The latter suits best. In the new normal, we have to rethink so many of the things and processes we have been accustomed to doing in our industry. In tandem with the situation around us, a lot is going to have to change; first with instituting the new recommended standard operating procedures at our respective premises such as taking in account social distancing, introducing mandatory donning of face masks at all times, providing sanitizers and encouraging people to regularly sanitize their hands and commonly shared surfaces. On how we conduct business, we should adopt the recently popularized remote connectivity technologies such as Zoom to communicate with all parties.

These new technologies, besides being cost effective especially where expensive travel is involved, limit the risk of the spread of the virus from one person to another where business must be conducted face to face in close proximity. A lot of our business such as registration, interviewing, recruitment and training should now be done by way of video chats and video conferencing.

The mental health aspect of stakeholders in our industry such as the prospective candidates for recruitment and others has been tested by this period we have undergone and has been found wanting. We must offer psychological support for all stakeholders. We must hire in-house psychologists to offer counselling and psychological support for the mental wellbeing of all stakeholders especially the recruits.

On the financial front, to alleviate the financial pressures most stakeholders right from the recruitment candidates to the deployed individuals and even companies face at various times, we must establish a collective pool of funds sustained by individual savings and subscriptions. This pool of funds will enable stakeholders to borrow from it to alleviate some of the financial pressures they may be facing at various times especially owing to the increasing demands from dependants back home for the case of the deployed individuals especially.

Conclusion
The global Covid-19 pandemic in itself being a terrible disruption to life as we know it presents enormous opportunities for our industry to thrive. More than ever we must adopt to the new way of doing things to deliver efficiency and effectiveness. We must adopt the new normal or risk to perish.
Didas Kaginda Byaruhanga
Business Development Director
Forbes Enterprises Ltd
Email: didas@forbesenterprise.com

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