Interview Tek Bahadur Gurung
- Government plans to make labour importing countries more responsible
Sep 1, 2014-
Foreign employment sector has emerged as a huge aid to Nepal’s economy, but the cost is huge. Dozens of Nepali migrants lose their lives in labour destinations every month, while hundreds face abuse and exploitation. The government claims that it has been working towards betterment of workers, though the outcome so far points to the opposite. Roshan Sedhai talks with State Minister for Ministry of Labour and Employment Tek Bahadur Gurung to find out what the government has been doing.
You took charge of the Labour Ministry with the mandate to reform the foreign employment sector. How far have you succeeded?
It would be unwise to expect overnight reform in the sector constituting some 3.5 million people. But there has been solid start towards that direction. Our main priority is to make our front-line services easier, faster and accessible to the workers. The formation of labour village and increment of staffers at the Department of Foreign Employment have been helpful in providing smooth service to some 3,000 migrant workers every day. We have also started the process to form labour bank to provide soft loan to workers who have been going aboard borrowing money on high interest rate. The ministry has also begun homework to sign labour pacts with all the labour destinations for the protection and promotion of migrant workers.
International media have compared Nepali workers in the Gulf to ‘modern day slaves’. What has government done to press the countries in the Gulf to protect the rights of its citizens?
There are problems. We have raised these issues with all the government in the Gulf, including Qatar. They have expressed their commitment to improve the working and living condition of the workers. Qatar, for example, has carried out massive reformation in the labour sector. I believe we could make the labour destinations even more responsible by signing Memorandum of Understanding without much delay. The good news is that these countries are equally eager to sign labour agreement now.
How many countries are positive on signing the labour agreement?
The ministry plans to sign labour agreement with all the labour destinations in the Gulf. Our current priority is to sign labour agreement with Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. These countries are major labour destinations for Nepali workers. Malaysia, the largest work destination of Nepali migrants, is ready to sign agreement by the end of this year. We will gradually sign the agreement with other countries. Likewise, there have been talks on signing a separate labour agreement for domestic workers with these countries. We have also begun diplomatic process to ask the labour destinations to issue free visas and tickets to workers and increase facilities for workers.
Does that mean the government will lift travel ban on women below 30 years to work in the Gulf as domestic workers?
The age ban has done more bad than good. It’s pushing women below 30 to choose more dangerous routes via India to reach the work destinations. The ban makes no sense as long as the labour receiving nations allow permission to undocumented workers. Women are going aboard because there is no job at home. They will be ready to take any risk to go aboard. Having said that, the ministry still thinks there should be some mechanism to ensure their safety and security. We have currently imposed ban on domestic help to go to Gulf and urged the labour destinations not to allow entry to domestic workers for some months. It will be lifted after signing of a separate labour agreement for female workers. There will also be agency agreement between the recruiting agencies of two countries to make recruitment process secure and effective.
Nearly 75 percent of Nepali migrants are unskilled, while a vast majority of them go aboard even without proper orientation and training. Why is the ministry doing nothing?
There is no doubt that pre-departure training and proper orientation could be beneficial for workers. But the government is not in position to offer free training to 3.5 million workers. It takes at least six months for a worker to acquire skills. The ministry has been doing its best to ensure effective orientation for workers. It will take some time.
Published: 02-09-2014 09:20