Nepal’s labour black-market

  • Greed of a few recruiting agencies and top bureaucrats has landed many Nepalis in trouble at work destinations
- ROSHAN SEDHAI
Nepal’s labour black-market

Apr 14, 2015-Last October, the government added Uzbekistan in the list of work destinations, in what was to be the 110th country where Nepalis could go for employment.

According to standard practice, before declaring any new work destination for its citizens, the government should first establish bilateral link with the concerned country, set up a diplomatic mission there, explore job potential, and sign Memorandum of Understanding. But no such things happened in case of Uzbekistan.

The government deemed it appropriate to open the country as the newest work destination just because some recruiting companies in Kathmandu had procured work demand contracts for 500 workers in a Samsung outlet based in Uzbekistan. However, this was not the first time the Ministry of Labour and Foreign Employment (MoLE) had chosen a country as labour destination on the recommendation of a few recruiting agencies. A majority of the countries that Nepal recognises as labour destinations today were selected to suit the business interest of a few powerful recruiting agencies and government officials.

Before Uzbekistan, the government had enlisted the Republic of Congo in the list of work destinations in March 2013. MoLE officials say the Republic of Congo and some sub-Saharan countries were added in the list to fulfil the interest of a few people. Though Nepal has established diplomatic ties with Congo in 2006, neither of the countries have opened embassies so far.

“It’s happening due to vested interest of recruiting agencies and top government officials. After all, we are talking about tens of millions,” a MoLE source said.

The cases of Uzbekistan and Congo show how the foreign employment industry evolved in Nepal and how much control recruiting agencies wield in the labour market. From the onset of post-1990 political change, a period that heralded the labour migration trend to the oil-rich Gulf, private recruiting agencies have dominated the labour market.

Though 95 percent of Nepal’s total migrant workers are based in Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Korea and Oman, the government has been randomly enlisting other countries without slightest preparation. Such action has not only exposed the people to trafficking, fraud and various forms of exploitation, but also limited the government resources to effectively carry out reforms in major labour receiving countries.

“Money has been the primary factor for haphazard enlistment of new countries as work destinations. Even the basic criteria to safeguard the rights and welfare of workers in labour receiving countries has been disregarded,” said one official at the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE).

There are instances of the government granting work approval to its citizens to war-torn countries without weighing in the risk factors. DoFE has been issuing work approval to conflict-ridden countries like Afghanistan, Iraqi province of Kurdistan, Libya and Yemen where an estimated 40,000 Nepalis are said to be working currently.

DoFE has also been granting work permit to the countries like South Sudan, Congo and Nigeria that are perpetually at war or grappling with deadly diseases.

The government’s failure to determine its priority regarding the rights and safety of its citizens working abroad has affected some 3 million Nepalis, particularly those working in the Middle East. It has failed to initiate reforms to promote living and working condition of the workers, even when they are facing cruel and inhumane treatment in labour receiving countries.

Buddhi Bahadur Khadka, head of MoLE’s foreign employment division, said that the new countries were added to the list of work destinations based on the consultation with other stakeholders.

“People are going there anyway due to better work benefits than in the Gulf countries. Recognising these countries as labour destinations would persuade the people into applying for work legally,” said Khadka. Rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have termed the condition of Nepali workers in many of the Gulf countries as “modern day slavery”. They claim that Nepali workers are enduring “cattle-like” treatment in Gulf countries, including Qatar.

Experts say that both labour receiving and sending countries should be held accountable for the condition of workers. Nepal has been unable to provide even minimum protection to its migrant workers. Their access to information, prompt service and hassle-free recruitment process are severely constrained. They have even little access to justice, despite widespread fraud and exploitation that take place under a corrupt system.

Government offices have been blaming limited availability of human and physical resources for poor service, weak monitoring and even weaker enforcement of law. DoFE, a frontline office that oversee the entire foreign employment industry, has barely 200 staff and insufficient resources. Its entire service is limited inside the Capital even though around 90 percent of the migrant workforces come from places outside Kathmandu Valley.

Sri Lanka, which also export workers to various countries, has a dedicated ministry to look after the migrant workers and their welfare. Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Employment boasts over 1,000 employees with equal number of officials at the embassies in major work destinations.

Nepal has barely 50 employees in its missions based in nine major work destinations: Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, South Korea and Oman. Furthermore, Nepal has yet sign the labour agreement with countries like Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman, where around 1.2 million Nepalis are working currently.

Representatives of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (Nafea) say there is nothing wrong with adding new work destinations as long as the workers are getting better pay than in the Gulf countries and Malaysia.

They are of the view that the facilities and benefits that workers get should be taken into consideration while opening new work destination. “It’s the government’s duty to research job potential in foreign countries before sending the workers. The government should also pay equal attention to major work destinations in order to promote and strengthen the rights of the workers living there,” said Bal Bahadur Tamang, former chairman of Nafea.

Published: 14-04-2015 09:09

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