Labour painGovernment’s decision to ask ‘demand letters’ is appreciable, now enforce it
It is no secret that the thousands of Nepalis who work abroad in the Gulf and Southeast Asia are subject to exploitation and injustice. In recent years, the government has brought a number of laws and regulations to protect the rights of these migrant workers. Most recently, it has brought a new provision which would require ‘demand letters’ from employers to be approved by Nepali diplomatic missions in the host countries.
Simply put, the ‘demand letters’ are documents submitted by recruiting agencies on behalf of the companies hiring Nepali workers. Previously these documents were submitted to the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) in Nepal and the department would then decide whether the companies mentioned in the documents were legitimate. However, the department often faced difficulties—it found it hard to find information about the companies recruiting workers. Furthermore, it was a well-known fact that even in cases where the companies mentioned in the documents were legitimate, many of the details mentioned were not. For example, the documents would list the salaries, benefits and facilities to be enjoyed by the workers. But when workers began employment, they would discover that their salaries were substantially lower and facilities far worse than mentioned in the documents.
For this reason, the government has now decided that the demand letters need to be approved by the diplomatic missions in the host countries. Being located in the very countries where the companies operate, the missions will be in a better position to investigate whether they are legitimate and whether they have been operating according to the details mentioned in the demand letters.
These are appreciable steps. If imposed adequately they will go a long way towards ensuring the rights of migrant workers. It is also appreciable that the government has decided that the Nepali missions will closely monitor the living conditions of Nepalis in the Gulf and the activities of various companies. Additional mechanisms need to be created for coordination between Nepal and migrant-receiving countries. There should be channels of direct communication so that complaints can be directly sent to host country governments about companies engaging in fraudulent activity.
However, fulfilling all these measures will not be easy. There is a long history of poor implementation of regulations in Nepal. Instead of benefiting migrants, such regulations have often posed greater bureaucratic burdens upon them. To avoid this, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) needs to closely evaluate its foreign missions to understand their needs. Steps need to be taken to increase the capacity of these missions to adequately fulfil their responsibility. The MoFA should coordinate closely with the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security to determine whether the labour attachés in migrant-receiving countries have all the resources they need.