Nepal, Government ignoring migrant labourers

The remittance generated by migrant Nepali labourers is one of the pillars of Nepali economy, but the government has done little to protect the interests of workers abroad. The number of migrant workers abroad has nearly doubled in the past five years. Nepali journalist Indra Gurung reports.

According to government figures, there were 104,736 labourers working abroad in the fiscal year 2001-02. The number jumped to 204,833 in 2006-07, generating remittance amounting to more than Rs 102 billion last year alone. The government does not have diplomatic representations in many countries open for foreign employment. There are 105 countries allowed for employment, while there are 19 embassies abroad. Nepali workers have to correspond with the nearest embassy in case there is no embassy in the country concerned.
In a recent incident, Israel stopped placing demands for Nepali workers from June this year, as the Nepali government paid no need to frequent Israeli requests. Israel demands were that Nepali embassy should be opened to handle the labour issues there, the labourers should be trained before they were sent and the Nepali government should sign a bilateral labour agreement.
Just a week ago, Kuwait put a ban on hiring Nepali domestic help, citing the same reason, as Israel did some six months back. Nepal seems to be in a hurry to export its unskilled workers without even thinking of emergency measures to rescue them. Even in those countries where there are embassies, there is no labour attaché.

Bilateral / international pacts
Nepal has signed bilateral labour agreement only with Korea, Qatar and UAE. It is the employer who fixes the pay and perks of workers in the remaining 102 countries. Nepali migrant workers are hired for low wages without any other facilities. “The countries Nepali workers are employed have not signed conventions on migrant workers,” said Krishna Dawadi, director at the Department of Labour and Foreign Employment Promotion (DLFEP). Had there been bilateral labour agreements, Nepali labourers would have been paid as per the law along with other facilities entailing to it. “We have made requests to the countries where there are migrant workers, but these countries are not interested to strike a deal,” said Hira Bahadur Thapa, spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He said the receiver countries would not bother to enter into these types of agreements as they get enough supply from other countries. “Unless there are opportunities within the country, people will look for the alternatives. We cannot stop them from going abroad for employment and Nepali labourers are likely to be discriminated with,” Thapa said.

Gap in coordination
But migrant workers suffer the most due to co-ordination gap between the DLFEP and Nepali mission there.
The problem of migrant workers is first reported to the Nepali embassy in the country concerned. It conveys the message to the DLFEP for required action. The DLFEP is the government authority to supervise and monitor the recruitment process. The department corresponds with the Nepali mission in respective countries in rescuing the workers. The Foreign Employment Act 1985 had provision for a labour attaché in the countries where 5,000 or more Nepalese work. Even the amended act 2007 has the provision of a labour attaché to look after the interests and welfare of Nepalis citizens working there. But no such appointments have been made till date.
“The government should not delay in appointing labour attaché in these countries if the labour issues are to be addressed,” said Dawadi. He argued that a career diplomat knows little about the issues of labour and also it is not his field of work. “They have orientation on diplomatic issues, but a labour attaché can take of labour issues better,” he said.

Dawadi said many issues related to labour go unreported. “For instance, we knew the news of 10 Nepali detained in Afghanistan. We have not yet been informed formally,” he said. A newspaper on November 30 wrote the news of their detention in Afghanistan. The MoFA on December 3 said Arjun Shahi, one of the detainees, would be returning to Nepal and that the Nepalese embassy in Islamabad was issuing him travel documents and facilitating his travel to Nepal. But Shahi has not yet arrived here. Thapa, however, said the root of migrant workers problems stems from Nepal itself. “The authority concerned should strictly regulate the process of sending workers abroad,” he said. He said the ban on Iraq and Afghanistan that came into effect following the riots in September 1, 2004 triggered by the murder of 12 Nepalis in Iraq, should be lifted. “We should rather focus on supplying skilled manpower and those unskilled should be at least given orientation about the nature of job,” Thapa said.
The migrants to India are not required to get work permit, nor do they have to undergo medical tests. It has been difficult for the department to check the outflow of migrant workers to the banned countries. They take flight from Delhi. (The Himalayan Times, Kathmandu, December 17)

ITUC annual survey: Nepal

1 Response to “Nepal, Government ignoring migrant labourers”

  1. 1 music January 9, 2008 at 7:17 am

    very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

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