New provision to allow Nepali domestic help in Gulf to return home during breakNepali workers will be provided with re-entry labour permit to rejoin their job in destination countries.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
Tens of thousands of Nepali migrant workers—stuck in various Gulf countries—will be able to return home as the government is planning to revise the existing ban on Nepali citizens from taking up housemaid jobs in those countries.
Nepali workers—both men and women working as domestic help—have not been able to return to Nepal after the government prohibited Nepali citizens from going to work as domestic help in the Gulf countries.
Following the ban, these workers, who had already migrated to the Gulf, could not come back fearing they would not be able to return to their jobs.
The Parliamentary Committee of Industry, Commerce, Labour and Consumer Interest on Wednesday directed the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security to allow these workers to return to their respective jobs in destination countries if they wish to come back to Nepal.
According to Umesh Dhungana, joint-secretary at the Labour Ministry, after the parliamentary committee decision, the government will start issuing re-entry labour permit—a government approval required for returning to the destination countries after the break—to migrant workers.
“Once the House committee makes the decision, we will start the process to provide re-entry labour permits to workers,” Dhungana told the Post.
Such a decision will bring a much-needed respite for thousands of workers who have been away from home for a long time. The relaxation, however, has come only for those migrants who are already working in those countries.
The ban had come into force following a 10-day field visit to some of the Gulf countries in April 2017 by the members of the parliamentary committee of international relations and labour committee.
The team, which had gone to take stock of Nepali workers’ working conditions, their rights and safety, had defended their decision of not allowing Nepali citizens from working as domestic help in those countries in their report submitted in August 2017.
Since then, Nepali workers have not left to work as domestic help in the Gulf countries via legal channels.
The blanket ban also affected thousands of Nepali workers already posted at their jobs in the Gulf. They knew once they come back to Nepal, they cannot return and lose jobs.
“Many workers wanted to come back home during job breaks, but the fear of being denied re-entry work permit kept them at bay,” said Dhungana. “Now they can visit their families, and if they want to return, then can.”
The migrant workers who want to take benefit of this relaxation will have to write an application to the Nepal embassies in respective countries, stating that the job was safe and they will continue working with the same employer once they come back.
An attestation from the Nepali mission will enable the workers to come to Nepal and to obtain re-entry labour permit.
According to Dhungana, over 1,000 workers are already awaiting labour permit to resume their work in the Gulf.
The ban, which has been in place for over two years, has come under fire from various rights activists and labour rights organisations. They have called it discriminatory and “restrictive approach” that curtails the individual right to movement and employment.
Roshana Pradhan, a lawyer and programme officer with the Forum for Women, Law and Development, told the Post that the decision was a welcome move in reuniting these workers with their families.
“The ban has been discriminatory from the beginning. It only made Nepali workers more vulnerable to other threats that might come after using illegal routes,” said Pradhan. “For now, this is a good beginning on the part of the Nepal government.”
Before the blanket ban on domestic workers, the government had set an age bar, allowing Nepali women aged 24 and above in household jobs in the Gulf and Malaysia.
“The existing Foreign Employment Act doesn’t allow any such discrimination based on any factor. The ban was imposed based on a circular,” said Pradhan. “As per the existing laws, a person is considered an adult once they turn 18. If they are adult, why should there be age-based restrictions for jobs abroad.”
Earlier this year, the 71st Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) had raised concerns about the restriction on the freedom of movement that exposes women to discriminatory practices like physical abuse and sexual assault, forced labour and unequal pay.
CEDAW, in its recommendations, had said that the Nepal government should protect labour rights and promote a safe and secure working environment for all workers, including migrants, particularly women opting for foreign employment.
It also urged the Nepal government to get rid of such discriminatory restrictions imposed on those trying to work abroad to guarantee all women equal access to employment within and outside the country.
“The current decision looks in favour of the workers, but it only addresses a part of the bigger problem,” said Pradhan. “The ban, which is the main issue, continues. The government should now repeal this ban.”