Migrant workers trapped abroadCases of out-migrants stuck in exploitative jobs should be handled quickly and effectively
The developing story of a group of migrant women workers sent to China has many confounding aspects. The 44 women, who all paid Rs100,000 each to a manpower agency for pre-agreed contract employment, have been duped with regard to their area of work, living conditions, and salary. In fact, they were paid $50 per month, about a meagre 13 percent of the promised salary of $400. In such a scenario, the immediate protection and repatriation of the women should have been a priority. Yet, the embassy heard their complaints and forwarded the case to the Department of Foreign Employment. The department, in turn, contacted the manpower agency in question and asked them to solve the issue. All this time, the women are stuck in China, stressing over their future. This whole situation has been badly handled by the authorities concerned. The repatriation of the women should have been the first step the government agencies should have taken, followed by a thorough investigation followed by appropriate legal measures against the employment agency, if needed.
The women had found employment in a factory in Dandong, an industrial city bordering North Korea, through a Gaushala-based employment agency called Compass Recruitment. The contract that the women signed with Compass Recruitment clearly stipulates a monthly salary of $400 for a job in the packing section. Other stipulations include provisions for lodging and board, medical insurance, an 8-hour workday, and one day off a week. What the women received was a job in the stitching section, a workday lasting 11 and a half hours, two meals a day, and cramped living quarters with eight women sharing one room. The women had clearly been cheated, and the conditions eerily reflect those of migrant workers trapped in Qatar that the Post has covered on previous occasions. This is also clearly a breach of contract on the part of the Chinese employers and the Nepali headhunters involved. Moreover, seeing how the women in this situation had been desperate enough to contact embassy employees in the face of intimidation, this is also a case of Nepali citizens trapped abroad and in need of help.
In light of this, it is surprising that the Nepali Embassy—and subsequently the Foreign Employment Department—handled the case as they did. The procedure to handle migrant employment issues is as follows: When the embassy receives a complaint, it begins a bureaucratic procedure that involves calling the Foreign Employment Department. The department then contacts the complainants and the responsible recruitment agency, and asks them to solve the issue, which may include the repatriation of migrant workers. While the embassy and the department did follow this procedure duly, the issue here is that the process seemed indolent and unconcerned. This is clearly a case of Nepali citizens trapped abroad in an exploitative situation with no recourse. Embassies routinely help their citizens abroad who are trapped or exploited. Why couldn’t the Nepali Embassy cut through the red tape and do the same in such a situation? Also, the only action appropriate for the Department of Foreign Employment is to pressure the concerned agency to bring all the women back home immediately, and to pursue a thorough investigation after the women are known to be safe and in a non-coercive and non-exploitative environment. In the long run, a revamp of the bureaucratic procedure is required, so that such incidents are handled quickly and effectively in the future.