Travelling lightNepal-Malaysia labour pact eases the financial burden of Nepali workers
Thanks to the lumbering pace of industrialisation in the country, migration has begrudgingly become an undeniable reality for many of our fellow citizens. Over the years, labour migration has been an important livelihood option and remittances sent by migrant workers have become a mainstay of our economy, accounting for almost a third of it. But labour migration is also a grim reality, as the tens of thousands of Nepalis who work in the Gulf and Southeast Asia continue to be exploited and mistreated at the hands of employers. Workers are often duped, underpaid, and forced to toil under harsh conditions. Given this scenario, the much talked about labour pact between Nepal and Malaysia is a reason for cheer.
The agreement, which was signed on Monday, is the outcome of constant deliberation between the Nepali and the Malaysian officials for over three months. According to the deal, the Malaysian employers will have to bear all the expenses pertaining to the hiring of workers, including return journey air tickets. This is a good step towards ensuring workers’ rights of a section of its citizen who has been continually subject to exploitation and injustice.
In recent years, the government has announced an encouraging slew of initiatives aimed at providing increased protection for migrant workers. Last year it 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.Privously, families could claim compensation only if migrant workers died or suffered injuries abroad while under contract. Earlier this year, the government got rid of the Malaysian government’s unilateral policy that had put an immense financial burden on Nepali migrant workers aspiring for a job in Malaysia. Following this, it even clamped a travel ban.
According to data obtained from the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), around 35,54,000 Nepalis have left the country so far seeking work abroad. Of the total population leaving for foreign employment, nearly 30 percent go to Malaysia. In fact, in the fiscal year 2017-18, 104,209 Nepali workers had received work permits for Malaysia making it their most preferred foreign employment destinations. Trailing close behind is Qatar, with 103,179 Nepalis opting for the Gulf country. The government is also working on a new agreement with Qatar to eliminate all visa, medical and bureaucratic fees.
Over the years, our migrant workers have endured harsh treatment abroad. This has been a damning indictment of Nepal’s diplomacy. But the recent labour pact is reflective of the fact that the government, for a change, has been careful in handling the situation and has put maximum effort on diplomacy. The government must be lauded for this as it is a step in the right direction. Going forward, there has to be more government-to-government engagement with countries where our compatriots seek foreign employment.
The hard earned money of the migrant workers that comes to the country in the form of remittance has had a significant impact in reducing poverty—and keeping the economic engine running. Continually pressing for better labour rights in the countries where they work and ensuring they do not get cheated in the process is the least the government can do for them.