To better protectAmendments to Foreign Employment Act must be implemented to safeguard migrant workers
Over the past year, the government has announced an encouraging slew of initiatives aimed at providing increased protection for thousands of Nepalis who leave the country seeking work abroad. Most recently, the government amended the Foreign Employment Act 2008, making families of injured, diseased or deceased migrant workers eligible to claim compensation one year after the termination of the workers’ contract with employers. Prior to this decision, families could claim compensation only if migrant workers died or suffered injuries abroad while under contract.
This amendment comes on the heels of others; the compensation for families of deceased migrant workers will be increased to Rs700,000 from the original amount of Rs300,000, financial assistance up to RS700,000 will be provided to families of workers who are injured or have contracted critical diseases, and life insurance coverage will be increased to Rs1.5 million up from the existing Rs500,000.
Such measures to protect migrant workers have been long-awaited. They are an undeniable necessity in a country such as ours where jobs are scarce. The sluggish pace of industrialisation coupled with political instability has driven more than 400,000 migrant workers to work abroad. Remittances sent by migrant workers have become a mainstay of our economy, accounting for almost a third of it. But it has become abundantly clear that numerous complexities are associated with migration, making attendant costs particularly significant.
More than 5,000 Nepali migrants have died while working abroad since 2008, according to a report by the International Labour Organisation. Equally perturbing is the fact that the cause of death of 795 Nepalis in various job destinations between 2008 and 2015 could not be ascertained, while 849 Nepali migrants who were given a clean bill of health before leaving Nepal were reported to have died of “natural causes”.
Another harsh reality is that workers are still charged exorbitant fees by recruitment agencies, leaving them crippled by debt and forced to work under conditions bordering on the abusive. The 2015 “Free Visa, Free Ticket” policy banning employment agencies from charging job seekers the cost of the plane ticket and work visa has not been enforced. That such laxity persists shows that the government needs to do much more to fulfil its responsibility of ensuring migrant workers’ well-being.
The recent declarations are encouraging, but lip service alone will not suffice in effecting change. Amendments to Foreign Employment Act have to be implemented effectively in order to better serve and protect Nepali migrant workers.