Voices for fair recruitment grow as Nepal and Malaysia hold labour talks todayMalaysia’s Home Minister Ismail is in Kathmandu to discuss a number of bilateral issues, including migration.
A high-level delegation from Malaysia, led by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to discuss a number of bilateral issues, including migration.
The delegation is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Labour Minister Dol Prasad Aryal on Friday.
Punya Bhandari, personal secretary of Aryal, said the agendas would be disclosed after the meeting.
Malaysia has announced it will hire 500,000 foreign workers for various sectors.
For Nepali workers, Malaysia has been the top destination since 2008 when the government started keeping records of labour migrants.
However, Nepal halted labour migration to Malaysia for 16 months pending an agreement on recruitment fees and labour market conditions, outlined by a memorandum of understanding between the two governments in October 2018.
Labour migration to the country resumed in September 2019.
The number of Malaysia-bound workers has seen a steep rise since the country resumed intaking migrant workers after the Covid-19 pandemic.
The memorandum of understanding between Nepal and Malaysia in 2018 has a provision that exempts workers from paying recruitment charges as the Malaysian employer is supposed to bear all the expenses of recruiting workers.
But, migrant workers say that has been limited to paper.
One of the workers told the Post in the condition of anonymity that they had paid Rs300,000 each to agents of a recruiting agency to get a job in Malaysia.
The worker claimed that the employer paid them less than the amount mentioned in the contract, verbally abused and physically attacked them whenever they could not perform the work efficiently, and transferred them to an under-construction apartment when they spoke against the injustices.
“While seven of us were kept in the empty apartment for seven days, a dozen were kept for 19 days before being sent to Nepal,” claimed the worker.
He said the monthly payment agreement was Rs72,600 or 2,346 Malaysian ringgit. “But we were not paid the overtime bonus.”
Nepali migration observers say that Nepal should raise fair recruitment and workers' safety concerns with the Malaysian delegation, observers say. Last month, 19 Nepali workers were rescued from Malaysia.
According to the data of the Department of Foreign Employment, Malaysia has become the top labour destination among Nepalis with 125,670 new labour permits issued in the first five months of the current fiscal year.
While Malaysia currently hires workers from 15 countries, it only recruits security guards from Nepal.
Though the government removed the provision that allowed recruiting agencies to hire sub-agents in March 2019, they still continue to operate through indirect channels, observers say.
Labour migration researchers say the recruitment cost has, in fact, gone up after the 2018 agreement.
“The demand for workers is generally sold to the highest manpower agent bidder and given so many agents and much competition in Nepal, the cost is now usually in excess of Rs300,000 per worker,” said Andy Hall, a Kathmandu-based migrant workers' rights specialist working in South and Southeast Asia.
“The high recruitment costs and more broadly unethical recruitment are most often caused by the systemic corruption in Malaysia’s governance of foreign workers and the corruption of the Malaysian employers,” Hall added.
Rameshwar Nepal, executive director of Equidem Research Nepal, a human rights and labour rights research organisation, said the safety of migrant workers, contract breach, delay or non-payment as well as documentation-related issues need to be addressed.”
After Saudi Arabia, the highest number of Nepali migrant workers’ deaths from the fiscal year 2019-20 to 2021-22 have been recorded in Malaysia.
According to the Nepal Labour Migration Report-2022, 870 workers died in Saudi Arabia, 817 in Malaysia, 595 in Qatar and 496 in the United Arab Emirates in the past three years.
The actual figure could, however, be higher as many migrant deaths go undocumented.
Death by suicide among Nepali workers was highest in Malaysia in the period, with 80 Nepalis dying by suicide.
Nepal says high chances of debt bondage due to exorbitant recruitment fees, deception and contract breach might be one of the reasons behind high suicide rates among Nepalis in Malaysia.
“Since Nepali migrant workers have to pay comparatively more in recruitment fees to secure jobs in Malaysia, they are at higher risk of falling into debt bondage,” said Nepal.