Print Edition - 2014-10-28  |  Development

Overcoming shortcomings in migrant labour industry

- Chahana Sigdel
Overcoming shortcomings in migrant labour industry

Oct 27, 2014-

Less than two weeks after starting work in Malaysia, Akshay Sharma (name changed) was assaulted by an unidentified gang at his workplace last month. Sharma somehow managed to return to Nepal without his passport and without the help from the Nepali embassy there. Sharma’s struggle has not ended even after returning home. He has been frequenting the Foreign Employment Promotion Board these days, retelling officials the horror he faced in Malaysia in hopes of receiving compensation. The board has told Sharma that he can claim  restitution only if he furnishes either a letter from the company that had hired him, a letter from the hospital or a letter from the embassy. He has none.

“I was beaten to the point of unconsciousness. All I cared for then was to come back to my family. I couldn’t wait for paperwork because the embassy just didn’t seem to care,” says Sharma.  

The board is tasked with rescuing workers, compensating bereaved families and injured workers, and carrying out awareness programmes. Before leaving for overseas employment, every worker should deposit Rs 1,000 rupees which goes to the welfare fund set up to help migrant workers. Sharma says he had no clue about the board, nor about the welfare fund until now.

“All I know is I gave 1 lakh 75 thousand rupees to my agent and got a receipt of 40 thousand rupees,” he says.

Tika Ram Bhandari, spokesperson of the board, says the lack of decentralisation of the board’s activities has barred the information from reaching the people. The board has been unable to extend its reach at the local level. As a result, Bhandari says, many people are unaware of their rights and facilities when they go abroad for employment.

“It is hard to get the message across the country when we just have one central office and no branches,” says Bhandari.

 Yuvraj Nepal of Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an organisation that works for migrant workers, concurs that the board would be effective if its activities could reach the rural parts of the country.  “If there are units at district offices and if proper programmes are carried out in these units, then this would allow the flow of information and also facilitate better coordination between various organisations and the board,” says Nepal. “Right now, very few people have information, particularly the families.”

 At least three bodies of migrant workers are sent back to Nepal on a daily basis. Records show that  more than 800 Nepali migrant workers lost their lives last year alone. But unawareness alone is not the only problem, and the board alone cannot solve its problem of ineffectiveness. Officials at the board say it has been unable to “reach its full potential” also because of lack of coordination among various agencies.

 While the board is expected to manage logistics of bringing back bodies and collecting paperwork for injured worker, it can only be effective if there is a proper coordination and communication with respective embassies under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Similarly, the Finance Ministry is also involved whenever the situation of compensating undocumented workers arises.

“How do we work effectively if the embassies don’t communicate with us or if there is no contact between the finance ministry and the labour ministry ?” says Bhandari. “This is not about blaming one particular agency, but acknowledging that this lack of coordination is a major problem that hampers the board from carrying out its duties.”

 Official records at the board show that around 1,000 to 1,500 go abroad for employment. It is estimated that 1,000 undocumented workers also leave the country.

“Recently, we have been contacted by a person in Malaysia who was tricked by an agent who promised him that he’d be in Brazil,” says Bhandari.  “There are many cases and we are trying to solve them, but the rate at which the problems are arising is much larger than our capacity to handle them. What the board is lacking is a competent mechanism and a clear mandate to deals with these issues.”

 Meanwhile,  more migrants are facing difficulties in their labour destinations. The problem will continue go worse unless there is a long term plan that envisions an increased outreach and  coordination between agencies. 

Published: 28-10-2014 08:54

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