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Overworked and underpaid

  • Stakeholders urge government to take initiative to ensure minimum wages for workers
- ROSHAN SEDHAI, KATHMANDU
Overworked and underpaid

Dec 4, 2014-

As Qatari government prepares to deport 100 Nepali migrant workers for demanding wage hike, stakeholders have warned that more Nepalis working in the Gulf could face a similar fate if the government fails to press the labour destination countries to endorse the minimum wage rate set by the Nepal government.

Around 600 Nepalis working for Qatar Freelance Trading and Contracting, and Qatar Middle East Company had gone on a strike last week, demanding salary adjustment according to the minimum wage rate. They were getting 600 Qatari riyals (QR), far below the minimum monthly salary of QR 900 (excluding food) set by the Nepal government. Though a majority of them returned to their work fearing punishment, 100 workers stood their ground. As a result, they were terminated from their jobs.

 Cases like this have become frequent ever since Nepal government revised the minimum wage for Nepali workers in 10 labour destinations last year. Officials at the Nepali embassies in the Middle East say they have witnessed 10 such cases of mass demonstration by Nepali workers in countries like Qatar, Saudi and UAE and Kuwait in the recent months.

As per the minimum wage set by the government, a worker should get at least 1,000 riyals in Saudi Arabia, 1,400 dirhams in the United Arab Emirates, 100 dinars in Bahrain, and 100 rials in Oman. Malaysian government has set 900 ringgits as minimum wage for migrant workers. However, most of the Nepali workers do not get the set amount due to dishonesty of the recruiting agencies.

Labour Ministry officials say that the wage rates had to be increased as Nepali workers were getting much lower pay than their south Asian counterparts, including the Indians and Sri Lankans.

Experts in the field of migrant labour, however, say that when Nepal revised the pay scale, it did not consult with the labour destinations in the Gulf, which is why the Nepali workers are not getting paid according to the new rates. The government did not even consult with the local labour recruiting agencies before setting the minimum wage. Unlike Malaysia, the Gulf countries have not set minimum wages for migrant workers. The pay rates differ from country to country and the nature of work.

Buddhi Bahadur Khadka, the head of Foreign Employment Division at the Labour Ministry, claim that it had considered the recommendations made by the Nepali missions from the labour destinations and consulted with the concerned stakeholders before revising the wage rates.

“It’s true that there has not been a proper consultation at the highest level possible. But our workers would get the prescribed salary even if the recruiting agencies in Nepal reject the demand letters with lower salary,” says Khadka.

Ministry officials say lacuna in the system, and dishonesty of recruiting agents and its own staffers have forced the workers to accept wages below the government-set rates. Ever since the government revised the minimum pay scale, the recruiting agencies have been found using two demand letters to con their clients.

They use fake demand letter while acquiring work approval from the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE). Anti-graft bodies have arrested dozens of government officials and recruiting agencies in the recent months for such fraudulent practices.

Recruiting agencies, meanwhile, have their own story to tell. They claim that lack of communication with labour destinations, insufficient homework, unhealthy competition among labour sending countries, and corrupt system have made it difficult to implement the revised wages.

 “Nobody wants to pay more money to workers when they are getting cheaper workforce from other countries. They are hiring Nepali workers because they are cheaper, and  they work harder. The government should raise this issue at the top-most diplomatic level,” says Bal Bahadur Tamang, former chairman of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies. “There should be timely and scientific increment of wage with proper consultation with all parties, including the labour receiving countries.”

Government officials claim the new wage scale still falls short of minimum wage fixed by countries like India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The minimum wage fixed by India for its workers in the Gulf is nearly 40 percent higher than Nepal. The minimum wage fixed by Philippines for its workforce in Gulf is double than that of Nepal.

Published: 04-12-2014 07:52

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