Nowhere to goThe government should take care of our migrant workers.
Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and South Korea are all major labour destinations for Nepali migrant workers, and they are also all in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. The migrant workers there face an uncertain future as lockdowns in Nepal and the host countries have been extended. Not just the migrant labours, Covid-19 and its subsequent effect on the economy has made the entire labour sector vulnerable. A recent report by the International Labour Organisation said the pandemic was expected to wipe out 6.7 percent of work hours globally in the second quarter of 2020. This is equivalent to 195 million full-time workers.
It need not be said that this is worrying. But what's more worrying is that the government has yet to create any concrete plan as to how to go about in this time of unprecedented crisis.
As per the latest finding of the ILO Monitor, 1.25 billion workers are currently employed in the sectors identified as being at high risk of ‘drastic and devastating’ increases in layoffs and reductions in wages and working hours. The majority of these workers are employed in low-paid, low-skill jobs, where a sudden loss of income is devastating.
With Nepalis sending $8.1 billion back home in 2018, Nepal is the 19th largest receiver of remittance in the world. When compared to the country’s gross domestic product, remittance is as large as a third of the total, larger than the contribution from industries. In fact, Nepal issued 3.5 million labour permits between 2008 and 2017. The country owes a lot to them, but ever since Covid-19 started spreading outside of China to the rest of the world, Nepali migrant workers have remained stranded in foreign labour destinations. Needless to say, this dies not bode well for them.
For example, nearly 500 Nepali migrant workers in Romania have been forced to either stay home without pay or take salary cuts as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaks havoc in Europe. In Malaysia, Nepali migrant workers are being forced to work even as the country went under a lockdown. Malaysia has been the hardest hit among the Southeast Asian countries by the pandemic with more than 1,300 cases of Covid-19. What's more, Qatar deported hundreds of Nepali workers.
The Nepal government, in its efforts to contain the disease, has imposed travel restrictions, banned all international flights, extended the nationwide lockdown and sealed its borders with India and China. These moves are required and commendable too. But the government has fallen short of repatriating its own people who as it is live in precarious conditions in the Gulf countries.
The authorities must immediately carry out their own assessment of the potential impact on migrant workers, and not just rely on reports published by international organisations. It is the government’s responsibility to take care of the vulnerable population. In the short run, they must be provided with economic support during such times of crisis. But in the long run, the government must not promote overseas work as an instrument to sustain economic growth.