A year after Qatar’s offer of zero cost jobs to Nepalis, there is no substantial progressDespite a series of negotiations and start of Qatari visa centre in Kathmandu, officials say they are yet to hear back from the Arab nation.
The hope of Nepali workers to secure ‘zero cost’ jobs in Qatar is ebbing fast due to the lack of progress on a bilateral understanding on the issue despite protracted negotiations spanning several months.
Last year, Nepal and Qatar, one of the most preferred destinations for Nepali migrant workers, had agreed to review their existing labour agreement signed in 2005.
Revisions in the bilateral agreement would have prevented Nepali workers from exorbitant fees imposed by the Qataris and also protect them against various other forms of exploitation in their host country.
It was Qatar which first proposed ‘zero cost’ modality for hiring Nepali workers through a review of the existing labour agreement. However, even after months, both countries have failed to reach an agreement which would have shielded Nepali workers from payments to secure jobs in Qatar.
According to an official with the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the government has not heard back from the Qatari government in the last few months.
As part of the negotiations, there were several rounds of discussions between officials of the two countries. A Qatari delegation visited Nepal in November last year to discuss the proposal while coming out with modalities to enforce the revisions. Likewise, a Nepali delegation had also gone to Qatar to hold talks on a revised bilateral agreement.
“During the discussions, the Qatari officials raised some concerns. Nepal government was expected to answer them back, which was done immediately,” said the official, who was privy to the information but did not want to be named because the matter involves bilateral relations. “The Ministry had sent their response, but since then, we never heard back from them.”
The Qatari side had mostly raised their concerns about establishing a Qatar Visa Centre in Nepal. The Labour Ministry had raised their concerns and sought clarity before a service centre in Kathmandu catering to Doha-bound Nepali workers came up.
However, the service centre became operational in June despite the reservations of the Labour Ministry after the Ministry of Foreign Affairs went ahead allowing the centre to operate in Nepal.
“The Labour Ministry should have had its say in the establishment of any such centre in Nepal,” said the official. “Now it seems, they were more concerned about opening their centre in Nepal.”
Nepali officials and migrant rights activists say both countries need to review their labour pact to make it more comprehensive in protecting the workers’ rights in Qatar, where exploitation of migrant workers is rampant.
According to Som Prasad Lamichhane, director with the Pravasi Nepali Coordination Committee, an organisation working for the rights of Nepali migrant workers, incidents of exploitation of Nepali workers in Qatar revolve around non-payment of wages, closing of companies and workers left stranded without money and jobs and awaiting justice for long.
“Therefore, a timely upgraded understanding between both countries is required to protect workers’ rights,” said Lamichhane. “Even when they file complaints, access to justice is sluggish. Protection of workers is the responsibility of both host and destination countries. If they do not take the initiative, Nepal should follow up for a review of their pact.”
Besides offering zero cost jobs, the draft agreement ensured workers easier access to justice, free legal services and the option to change jobs in Qatar. The proposed pact also safeguards workers from forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of discrimination and exploitation at the workplace.
“There have been a lot of changes between 2005 and 2019 which need to be addressed through the agreement,” said the Labour Ministry official. “Having an agreement makes it obligatory for the host country to protect migrant workers. Unfortunately, it has not happened, even after months of negotiations.”