Malawi exports migrant workers to S Korea
11 June 2013, 14:09
Blantyre - Malawi's popular gospel musician Joseph Alfazema
has quit his singing career, at least for now, for a job as an unskilled
agricultural labourer in South Korea where he hopes to earn "lots of
He is among tens of thousands of Malawians soon to go to
South Korea under a controversial employment scheme launched by President Joyce
Banda to beat joblessness in the southern African country suffering over 50% unemployment.
Critics fear the downside of the plan could be "modern
But Labour Minister Eunice Makangala has rubbished the fears
telling parliament recently that "it is not modern-day slavery."
The president's plan is to "offer employment
opportunities for young school leavers who have nothing to do and [to] address
the rising unemployment rates in the country".
Up to 200 000 youths enter the job market every year in
Malawi although only 40 000 new jobs are created, according to labour experts.
In Malawi, ranked among the least developed nations on
earth, about 40% of its 13 million people live on less than a dollar a day. Foreign
aid accounts for about 40% of the government budget.
When she launched the initiative in March, Banda said:
"I want them to go and work hard and impress the South Koreans".
Source of cheap labour
Malawi plans to send up to 100 000 migrant workers aged
between 19 and 40 years to South Korea, Dubai and Kuwait.
The government has now launched an advertising blitz for
vacancies in the hospitality and agricultural sectors.
Alfazema was one of those to first secure a job as a farm
"I am not dumping my musical career, but I want to go
and make more money for me to buy my own equipment," he said.
His career has hit the skids due his lack of recording
equipment and funds to produce DVDs for sale. He last recorded a video two
The migrant workers to South Korea will earn up to $1 000 a
month. That compares to salaries back home which average $100 in both the
private and public sectors.
But there are concerns that Malawi could be turned into a
source of cheap labour.
Billy Mayaya, head of an NGO National League for Democracy
and Development fears the scheme would lead to "modern day slavery".
"Chances of being exploited are higher, [instead] the government should
focus at creating jobs back home."
Lawmaker Steven Kamwendo from the former governing
Democratic Progressive Party of late president Bingu wa Mutharika warned the
government to be very clear about the terms under which the workers are going
before sending them away.
"We always cry about brain drain and encourage
Malawians in the diaspora to come back home and yet here we are exporting the
cream of our labour force abroad. It doesn't make sense at all," said
Wiseman Chijere Chirwa, a policy analysis lecturer at the
University of Malawi, is just as sceptical.
"Why would an Asian country be interested in Malawi
labour?" asked Chirwa. "The danger is that Malawi labour might be
favoured for its cheapness, thereby pushing Malawians into ultra-oppressive and
ultra-exploitative labour regimes."
But government is adamant the move would be beneficial as
workers will send cash home and build up savings in foreign currency.
Labour Minister dismissed fears of exploitation, telling AFP
that government labour experts had been to South Korea to assess the conditions
and were "generally satisfied".
She added that Malawi was not the first country to export
labour, with 16 other countries having signed deals to send migrant workers to
the Middle East.
"There are more employment opportunities in Dubai and Kuwait
for both unskilled and skilled positions," she added.