Nepali missions against lifting employment ban on women

  • housemaids in m’sia, gulf
- Roshan Sedhai, Kathmandu
Nepali missions against lifting employment ban on women

Apr 2, 2015-

The Nepali missions based in Malaysia and Gulf countries have advised the government against sending women to work as housemaids without signing labour agreement. They said no other measures, however stringent, can ensure the safety of Nepali women.

The warning comes after the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) tabled a new guideline at the Cabinet, seeking approval to allow Nepali women to visit Malaysia and Gulf countries to work as housemaids. In May 2014, the government had banned Nepali women from visiting Malaysia and Gulf countries for employment.

Nepali Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Uday Raj Pandey said just when they were witnessing a decline in the number of female migrant workers who had suffered abuses and exploitations from their employers, the MoLE is preparing to send women to Saudi and other labour receiving countries without signing labour agreement.

Only last year, Pandey said, the embassy rescued and repatriated up to 74 women. “The number of such victims is decreasing gradually. If the government starts sending women for employment without signing the labour pact, the decision will only put them at risk of getting exploited, he said.  “Only labour agreement could safeguard their rights and help them get legal redress when necessary.”

According to a 2012 report published by the Nepali mission in Saudi, an estimated 70,000 women were working in the Islamic nation at the time, though the embassy had not endorsed any demand letter concerning housemaids since 2011. Many of these women had arrived in the country illegally.

Meanwhile, Saudi, Bahrain, Kuwait and Malaysia, among others, are lobbying to lift the ban enforced by the Nepali authorities to stop Nepali women from visiting these countries for employment. These countries are reluctant to sign labour pact with Nepal, though.

Malaysia and Gulf countries have witnessed a sharp decline in the number of female migrant workers, who are usually employed as housemaids, after Indonesia, Philippines and Sri Lanka either stopped or regulated the flow of women there. To fill the demand for housemaids, Malaysia and Gulf countries are apparently trying to import female labourers from Nepal and other South Asian countries.

Ambika Joshi, second secretary at the Nepali Embassy in Kuwait, said sending women for employment without signing labour agreement would be a mistake.

“Even male workers should not be sent in the current circumstance,” Joshi said.

Despite the decrease in the number of female migrant workers who are either abused or exploited by their employers, Joshi said, up to six women still visit the embassy, seeking assistance and refuge every week.

Nitesh Sapkota, second secretary at the embassy in Qatar, suggested that the government should consult with the concerned embassies before taking long-term decision.

 “The decision should be entirely based on the inputs of Nepali missions, especially in the Gulf Cooperation Council region,” Sapkota said.

MoLE officials have claimed that the decision to revise the ban was taken in consultation with government and non-governmental stakeholders.  

“It’s just an alternative proposal but the focus will be on signing the agreement first,” MoLE Secretary Bhola Prasad Shiwakoti said.

As per the proposed guidelines, women who are above 24 years old would be eligible to go abroad to work as housemaids.

MoLE officials cited increasing pressure of rights groups to ensure mobility rights and failure of current ban to stop taking informal channel as the main reasons as to why they are considering lifting the prohibition on Nepali women from visiting Malaysia and Gulf countries for employment.

MoLE sources, however, said that senior officials, including State Labour Minister Tek Bahadur Gurung, are in a haste to lift the ban under the pressure of lobby groups, both at home and the destination countries. Gurung, who also owns a foreign employment agency, is said to have a personal interest in sending women overseas for employment without signing labour pact.    

Saru Joshi Shrestha, who heads the economic empowerment programmes at UN Women, said the problem faced by housemaids could be addressed through “multi-pronged approach”.

UN Women, which advocates mobility rights of women, has stressed on introducing standard contract system, promoting the right to information of the workers and their families, and empowering such workers in every respect.  

“Since the ban has been unable to produce desired result, the focus should be on promoting better regulation and protection measures at home and abroad while making efforts to sign a separate labour pact for housemaid with labour receiving governments,” Shrestha said.

Or else, she said, women will continue to take to illegal ways to go overseas for job.

Published: 03-04-2015 08:43

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