Insurance firms overcharge migrant workers over premium durationPoor services, overcharging and limited options show insurance companies discriminate against Nepali migrant workers, the foreign employment department says.
Pitambar Mandal returned home last month from Qatar where he had been working for nearly two years after his father died. He was in the middle of his job contract. After the final rites, Mandal, who is from Mahottari, wanted to return to the Gulf country to resume his job.
He reached the Foreign Employment Office at Tahachal in Kathmandu last week to obtain the work permit. He filled the application form and paid the insurance premium and amount every migrant worker is supposed to contribute to the Migrant Workers Welfare Fund.
After a few hours in the queue, he received the government’s permit for working in Qatar for two years. But his insurance payment was for three years—a fact he was unaware of.
“All I know is this insurance is for Rs500,000 coverage,” he told the Post in Kathmandu last week. “If something tragic happens, my family will get the money.”
Every year, tens of thousands of Nepali workers like Pitambar go for foreign jobs and are made to pay for a three-year insurance package despite them getting the work permit only for two years.
This has raised the Department of Foreign Employment’s concerns. It describes the ongoing practice as the exploitation of migrant workers.
According to the premium charges fixed by the Insurance Board, country’s insurance regulatory authority under the Ministry of Finance, a migrant worker has to pay a minimum of Rs3,900 to Rs9,000 for an insurance package depending on their age. Besides, the migrant worker has to contribute Rs1,500 to the migrant workers’ welfare fund.
“If the workers are made to pay only for two years in line with the validity of work permit, it will surely bring down the premium cost,” said Bhisma Kumar Bhusal, director general at the Department of Foreign Employment. “This is an exploitation of our migrant workers.”
However, the major lapse is in the overlapping of the insurance coverage period.
A worker, who has already paid for three years of insurance coverage package but returns after the end of his/her job contract of two years, will have to buy another three-year insurance package if s/he joins the same job after the break.
“Sometimes even a worker returns from the airport because of some issue and goes to work in another country or company, they have to buy another insurance package for three years again,” said Suresh Joshi, director of the Tahachal employment office. “For instance, if a worker returns within a year of work, the remaining valid months should be counted and they should be charged less while purchasing a new scheme.”
But Mandal, who had returned without even completing his job tenure, had to again pay for three years of insurance coverage.
According to Bhusal, this trend now means a worker ends up paying for six years whereas their job tenure is only four years.
“There is overlapping in terms of payment,” said Bhusal. “Insurance companies do not count the validity of the package if the worker returns within two years. They have to buy new insurance for the next three years even if their previous plan has not crossed three years. This has put an additional financial burden on Nepali workers.”
Currently, four insurance providers—Surya Life Insurance Company Pvt Ltd, Reliable Life Insurance Ltd, National Life Insurance Company Ltd and Union Life Insurance Company Ltd—have been outsourced by the Insurance Board through a pool system.
The Foreign Employment Department has raised concerns about the operation of only four companies, which has created a syndicate and resulted in poor service delivery to migrant workers
“There are several companies eager to provide services, but only four are allowed,” said Bhusal. “Limited options mean there is a monopoly. Every year, over 500,000 Nepali workers reach out to these companies, but their experiences have been bitter.”
While most of the pre-departure services like application process and issuing of labour permit have gone online and become hassle-free, workers have no option but to visit their limited counters set up at the Foreign Employment Office. They cannot make payments through any registered insurance provider companies.
“These companies do not have to spend money on promotion or hiring of any agents to cater to migrant workers,” said Bhusal. “The least they can do to migrant workers is offer e-banking and mobile banking payment facilities, premium payment from all their branches and remove the extra premium cost they have to bear.”