Cabinet gives green light for seasonal workersThe Seasonal Workers Management Working Guidelines 2022 permits local level to select workers and send them to foreign countries for temporary employment.
A cabinet meeting on Sunday gave an in-principle approval to send seasonal migrant workers to foreign countries.
The Seasonal Workers Management Working Guideline 2022 permits local level to select suitable candidates and send them to work temporarily in foreign countries.
The government moved to pass legislation to send Nepali citizens abroad as seasonal workers following a shortage of farm hands, in particular, after the Covid-19 pandemic, insiders say.
Germany, Italy, Spain, France and Poland employ large numbers of migrant agricultural labourers.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the international movement of migrant agricultural and horticultural workers in many parts of the world has been historically governed through "seasonal foreign worker programmes".
The governments of the respective countries provide temporary visas to migrant workers during the planting and harvesting seasons.
The system is well developed in Canada, the United States and the European Union where seasonal work is regulated, respectively, by the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme, H2-A Programme and the EU Seasonal Workers Directive, which fixes the criteria and requirements for the admission of seasonal workers from non-EU countries.
According to the ILO, an agency of the United Nations, many countries in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea, have also extended their programmes in this area in recent years.
In December 2019, Korea passed legislation to create a new visa allowing a stay of up to five months for foreign workers in the agriculture and fisheries sector.
"According to the new guidelines enacted by Nepal, individuals will be sent for foreign employment under a 'zero cost' scheme through a government initiative," said Rajeev Pokharel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security.
“The visa will be for almost a year. For the first time, local governments will be able to send workers to foreign cities with which they have established a sister city relationship. Foreign cities will send request letters through their respective embassies,” he said.
"Local governments have been given the authority to select and recruit workers. They will make their own guidelines to carry out the recruitment process,” he said.
After the candidates have been selected, their names will be sent to the Department of Foreign Employment. The department will then process the workers’ visa applications.
While South Korea has been most keen to hire Nepali workers for seasonal jobs, a large number of Nepalis have gone to the United Kingdom in recent years to work as fruit pickers.
Officials said the move would legalise seasonal workers as there has been a mass departure of Nepalis to different countries through visit or student visas.
Nepal currently has a provision to issue labour permits for two years.
The new guidelines for seasonal workers comes almost seven months after the government issued a circular prohibiting local units from sending temporary farm workers to South Korea.
According to the Nepal Labour Migration Report published on Sunday, 79,921 Nepalis have gone to South Korea under the employment permit system from 2008 to November 2022 for farm and manufacturing work.
Besides South Korea, the UK has emerged as an important destination for Nepali seasonal farm workers.
From 2019 to the first quarter of 2022, according to the report, 1,124 Nepalis received UK visas for temporary work, putting Nepal in the second spot after India as the largest receiver of UK visas among South Asian countries in recent years.
Seasonal work in the horticulture sector in the UK consists of picking fruits, vegetables and flowers for six months.
Workers have to pay around Rs41,666 (equivalent to 259 pounds) as an application fee besides spending for their visa and two-way ticket. They require a certificate of sponsorship, which is a reference number which holds information about the job and personal details.
There have been multiple reports of workers paying exorbitant recruitment fees to secure work and workers not being provided employment for the entire six-month period.
Last month, the Post interviewed several Nepali seasonal workers who said they had to pay Rs500,000 to Rs900,000 to a third-party agent for securing fruit picking jobs in the UK.
According to them, a farm worker can save Rs200,000 or more per month if they can get seasonal work.
A European Parliament report says that the reality of seasonal agricultural work is a harsh one, with generally poor working and living conditions. Undocumented migrants, but also legal ones, can fall victim to illegal gang-master practices or even modern forms of slavery.
The exploitation of women occurs in certain regions. The coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted harvests in the spring of 2020 as seasonal workers faced travel restrictions, also highlighted their essential role in EU agriculture and laid bare their sometimes appalling working and living conditions, the report said.
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the protection of seasonal workers in June 2020, calling on Member States to ensure proper implementation of the relevant EU legislation, and on the European Commission to issue new specific guidelines and propose long-term solutions to fight abusive practices and protect victims.
In Nepal, migrant workers are exploited too before they leave the country. They have to pay hefty pre-departure fees. Government officials say that after the law is enforced, the exploitation will end.
According to joint secretary Pokharel, action will be taken against those taking illegal recruitment fees from seasonal workers after the implementation of the guidelines.
Though the new guidelines can set a new precedent in Nepal’s foreign labour sector if implemented properly, labour migration activists and researchers point out the need for a robust regulatory mechanism to oversee the entire process, from the selection of applicants to their employment abroad.
“ I have not studied the new guidelines, but it should have come much earlier,” said Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility, Social Science Baha, a non-profit organisation involved in research in the social sciences in Nepal.
“With countries like South Korea and the UK demanding more temporary workers from Nepal in recent years, we should have assessed the situation and taken advantage of it,” he said, adding that there could be undesirable consequences if not managed properly.
“The concern is that local governments have limited capacity to manage migration at this time, and will need a significant increase in capacity, governance framework and monitoring to ensure that risks of corruption and extortion do not arise,” said Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant workers rights specialist working in South and Southeast Asia.
“The government should send workers only after ensuring their labour rights,” said Baniya. “Provisions related to recruitment fees, living and working conditions, minimum contract duration and work specification must be ensured.”