Nepal must ‘do more’ to protect workers’ rights

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 6, 2018-Nepal has to do more to protect the rights of its workers employed in foreign countries, a United Nations Special Rapporteur has said.

Felipe González Morales said this in a statement at the end of his eight-day visit to Nepal from January 29 to February 5.

“Important protection gaps continue to exist in law, and challenges remain in enforcement, implementation and monitoring,” he said in his end-of-mission remarks.

During his visit, Morales held meeting with government officials, civil society organisations, recruiting agencies, migrants and their families, trade unions among other stakeholders.     

The statement released Monday, analyses the overall scenario of migrant workers especially those Nepalis employed abroad. It includes preliminary recommendations for different sectors related to migrants. It appreciates the government’s existing policies including the “Free Visa, Free Ticket” policy endorsed in 2015, as well as increased awareness to address these issues. It points to several challenges Nepali citizens face while working in foreign countries. The statement gives several recommendations.

The Special Rapporteur comments the recruiting process is a very complex system, involving a large number of actors. 

“While I recognise recruiters facilitate regular opportunities, whereby migrants arrive with a legitimate visa, I observed the sector is in practice very poorly regulated, allowing recruiters to often charge high recruitment fees,” said Morales, adding he come across accounts of recruiting agencies charging as high as Rs 180,000. 

Morales points to the absence of sufficient licensed recruiting agencies and the presence of unlicensed subagents locally. This compels job seekers to deal with several officials and agents. This multiplies their payments.  He recommends the government to help recruitment agencies to establish their branches in districts.

“Decentralising services that only take place in Kathmandu can also benefit aspirant migrant workers from other parts of the country,” said Morales, at a press conference to share the preliminary conclusions of his visit. 

Morales commends the Free Visa: Free Ticket scheme of the government, but observes the policy remains poorly enforced with no effective monitoring system to fix non-compliance.

He terms the present monitoring process as highly problematic. He suggests the government to establish an independent monitoring system that effectively oversees abuse and exploitation, including complaints of different stakeholders. 

The UN Rapporteur urges the labour ministry to ensure recruiting agencies have license, develop a rating system to oversee their practices, abuse, exploitation and effective investigation.

“Despite existing legislation concerning human trafficking and forced labour, only victims’ complaints related to human trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation were investigated and tried under the criminal justice system. I urge the Government of Nepal to ensure that all cases involving trafficking and forced labour are properly investigated and tried under the criminal justice system,” said Morales, after finding most cases involving trafficking for labour exploitation or concerning forced labour were referred to the labour ministry and administered under the Foreign Employment Act. 

Morales observes several impositions like specific age limits to women migrant workers, restriction to women with children under two years of age, not only discriminates their right to leave the country, but also makes them more vulnerable to exploitation. 

“Such provisions only drive migration further underground and a considerable number of Nepali women use irregular channels through India, often at hands of unscrupulous recruiters,” said Morales, adding, “I hence strongly urge Nepali authorities to develop a human rights based, holistic and comprehensive policy, aiming at better protection of women migrant workers in destination countries.”

The preliminary recommendations prepared by the UN Special Rapporteur, 

who was invited by the government of Nepal to examine human rights situation of Nepali migrant workers, including related recruitment practices and returns and reintegration programmes, also includes developing bilateral labour agreements between countries, based on international standards. 

Morales’ recommendations suggests strengthening the legal and policy framework, improving data on status of migrant workers, ratification of international conventions, protecting and assisting of irregular migrant workers, creating job opportunities in the country, developing a policy that utilises skills and experiences of returnee workers and help in reintegration at the local market among other recommendations.     

The UN Human Rights Council will receive the report of Morales’ mission visit in June 2018.

Published: 06-02-2018 07:44

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