When seeking redress, migrants prefer violence

  • Trust in justice system is very low
- Weena Pun, Kathmandu

Jun 24, 2014-

When Singha Raj Lama left for Qatar in early January, it was not his first journey as migrant labourer. At just the age of 28, Lama had already spent three years in Malaysia and seven in Saudi Arabia. But this was the first time he was cheated by a recruitment agency, to which he had paid Rs 80,000 as a fee for the migration services.

At Qatar, Lama was supposed to work with steel and make around Rs 45,000 a month. Instead, he found himself working at a marble factory at half the salary promised. Even then, that remuneration never made it to his hands. When four months passed without any sight of money, Lama returned  to Nepal. He visited the fraudulent recruitment agency in Koteshwor to demand a refund-- the fee charged by the company, the travel cost , and the money owed to him by the marble factory.

When the agents told Lama to wait and kept asking him to come the next day, he resorted to violence, vandalising the office furniture, and threatening to murder the agents and burning down the building. Lama had hired some  local goons from Kavre, the district Lama grew up in, to communicate the threat.  

Two weeks after the confrontation, the agency wrote Lama a cheque for Rs 80,000, refunding the service charge. He never recovered the  amount lost in travels and unpaid salaries, but was satisfied.  

According to the Foreign Employment Act 2007, Lama is entitled to file a case against the recruitment agency at the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE). Any recruitment agency that fails to provide the migrant labourer the promised work and remuneration is liable to a fine of Rs 100,000 and to compensate the worker for the pay deficit.

Many workers like Lama, however, prefer not to take legal actions, and instead choose the path of violence to recover their money.

“If you can just talk and get the money back, why put the poor agent under the law,” says Lama.

No one knows how many migrants are cheated by  recruitment agencies, or how many of them  find redress through direct negotiations. But very few seek legal aid.

In the fiscal year 2012/13, the combined total number of complaints registered at the DoFE and the Foreign Employment tribunal was only 2,483. Given that the DoFE issued 453,543 permits for work abroad (excluding India) in the same period, and that there are more than 80,000 unregistered agents, the number of complaints seems an extreme underestimation.

Bandita Sijapati, research director at the Centre for the Study of Labour and Migration, says one of the reasons for the low number of cases lies in lack of awareness and of trust in public justice system. “The legal procedure is lengthy and uncertain. The DoFE has a backlog of complaints to sift through. And when the department does get to it, a swindled migrant worker can never be sure of justice and compensation,” says Sijapati.

Besides, even the DoFE and recruitment agencies prefer mediation over a protracted litigation. The worker gets a quicker access to compensation and the agency walks away with its reputation relatively intact. But the procedure is not just. The recruitment agencies involved in the fraud get away  and the cycle continues.  

It is the same with negotiations. Lama got his fee back, but the company will go on to cheat someone else and, with little trust in public institutions, that other person will also resort to violence. But he might not be as lucky as Lama.

Published: 25-06-2014 08:30

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