KATHMANDU: Millions of Nepali migrant workers toil abroad and send money back home, which significantly contributes to the gross domestic product (GDP). With lack of skills and awareness, migrant labourers work under harsh conditions that often result in gross violation of their rights. While the government needs to upgrade skills of migrant workers and ensure a safe work environment for them, it should also lavish attention on creating employment in the country.
Workforce drainShrink in manufacturing sector due to power crisis and lack of enabling environment brought about by political instability have fuelled the exodus of Nepali workers. Around 1,000 unskilled Nepalis leave for foreign employment per day. In 2010-11 alone, 354,716 left for foreign employment as recorded by the Department of Foreign Employment. However, the total number of people working abroad is much higher since the number of Nepalis working in India or going overseas for work via India is unrecorded. While the absence of employment opportunity is a strong reason for workforce drain, experts also link it with socio-psychological phenomenon. “Children who grew up during and post insurgency period have a mindset that nothing can be achieved in Nepal. Thus, the urge is to go abroad for work. Since every young adult of working age works abroad, a youth staying back in the village is considered incompetent,” says Dr Shiva Sharma, general secretary at the National Labour Academy, Nepal.
Dreams unfulfilledThe dream of a majority of Nepalis to work hard for a decent earning in a foreign land
hardly materialises. Most end up with unexpectedly tough job that even claim their lives at times. Though some registered
manpower companies sending workers abroad do a honest job, many unregistered ones indulge in cheating these uneducated
workers, according to Bhola Bhattarai, campaign officer at Amnesty International Nepal.
“The agents go to villages and promise people jobs at restaurants and department stores in gulf countries by
furnishing fake contracts. Upon landing there, workers are given a genuine contract and to their dismay, they find a job and pay completely unmatched to what was promised in Nepal,” informs Bhattarai. But by then the workers
are helpless as the company
employing them withholds their passports, including other legal documents, for security reasons. The problem is due to lack of information and proper orientation to Nepali migrant workers, opines Sharma, who alleges that pre-departure
orientation provided in Nepal is most often ineffective and limited to paper. Deaths while working in Middle East countries also occur as Nepalis
are unable to cope with the temperature of over 50 degree Celsius. “Instead of issuing tenders for coffins for citizens who die in foreign countries to be brought home, the government should come up with programmes to prevent the deaths,” says Sharma. People like Bhola blame the government for its inefficiency in monitoring and regulating manpower companies.
The state is often unsympathetic to the concern of poor migrant workers who are subject to several forms of rights violations abroad. The government is often viewed as unmindful of the contribution by migrant workers through remittance to the national economy. “Remittance is the lifeline of the country, but unlike countries like Sri Lanka and Philippines, Nepal’s government has failed to prioritise migrant workers,” says Ganesh Gurung, a sociologist. Gurung insists that the government needs to open diplomatic missions in countries harbouring Nepali workers and Bhattarai stresses that the government should sign memorandum
of understanding (MoU) with such countries to maintain a safe work environment. “Through remittance, the country earned Rs 254 billion in 2011 and hopes to earn some Rs 300 billion this year, but the workers are neglected,” regrets Gurung, adding, “Instead of embassies in countries like South Africa and Brazil that have a small number of Nepalis, they should be set up in countries like Libya, Kuwait, Bahrain, among others where many poor Nepalis are working and actually need help.”
The government is also criticised for lack of any rescue and evacuation plans in place if required in foreign lands where Nepalis work. Purna Chandra Bhattarai, director general at the Department of Foreign Employment claims Nepal government is good in contingency rescue operation. “Nepal emerged second after China in rescuing its citizens from Libya,” says Bhattarai who also informed that the
department is holding talks with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to open embassies in countries where Nepalis are working. “The department is consistently involved in the monitoring of manpower companies and has penalised around 13 companies that |violated set norms,” says Bhattarai. “The problem is that people do not report fraud cases immediately, giving the general impression that the
department is oblivious of fraud cases in foreign employment industry.”
However, he admits that thanks to a resource crunch, it is unable to monitor manpower companies across the country.
Remittance and remedyRemittance contributed 18.52 per cent to the GDP in 2010-11 and can be raised higher to boost the national economy by upgrading unskilled to semi-skilled labourers through trainings. People like Gurung suggest the government
develop a package — producing semi-skilled migrant workforce, providing them with soft loans and facilitating them to establish their own ventures upon return. “That way, every migrant returnee can sustain themselves in Nepal and also generate employment for many by utilising the skills they learned abroad,” says Gurung.
Thomas Sinkovits, chief of mission at International Organisation for Migration (IOM) - Nepal informs that IOM is providing technical assistance in several areas to the Nepal government in terms of enhancing its capacity on migration management. “As of
today IOM has rescued 111 Nepali migrant workers from Libya, 10 from Afghanistan and 12 from Madagascar. During Middle East and North
America crisis in March 2011, it rescued 48 Nepali migrant workers,” he informed. Migrant workers are not organised to voice their concern and so their woes are often lost in the noise. While local civil society can play an active role in teaching migrant labour about their rights and work environment in a foreign land, international organisations like IOM and ILO could do the needful in terms of ensuring a safe work environment and providing necessary help during emergencies in countries where Nepal government is not present.
While remittance is a vital ingredient for the national economy, the government should work to utilise natural resources and infrastructure development for a job creation and a sustainable economy.