Prime Minister’s Employment Programme may not provide expected relief to migrant workers affected by Covid-19, analysts sayThe government had pinned its hopes on the scheme to provide jobs to thousands of people, but the programme’s track record gives little to cheer about.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
When the government announced a slew of measures to support sectors affected by the coronavirus pandemic last month, it had pinned its hope on the Prime Minister Employment Programme, which provides a minimum 100 days of work for registered unemployed citizens, to address issues related to employment.
But as a large number of migrant workers have been hit hard by the global pandemic, such programmes that provide only temporary employment can’t provide respite for workers in the long run, experts say.
“Schemes such as the PM employment programme can’t be a long-lasting option as it temporarily provides certain days of employment,” said Swarna Kumar Jha, a labour migration researcher at the National Network for Safe Migration, a group of organisations working labour migration.
According to the government announcement, prospective migrant workers who received their work permit but couldn’t travel abroad due to Covid-19 restrictions, and those that had to return home after losing their jobs were to be registered at the local government’s Employment Service Center, and they would get work through the Prime Minister’s Employment Programme.
Government figures show that 67,020 Nepali migrant workers have returned home from various countries from mid-February to March 24 when all international flights were banned. Likewise, nearly 150,000 prospective migrant workers who had already received permits haven’t been able to go abroad because of travel restrictions.
Suman Ghimire, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, said his office has already collected data of the migrant workers concerned and was working on a plan to employ these migrant workers under the PM employment programme.
But it has already been a month since the relief package for workers was announced, and they are nowhere from receiving jobs as the country remains in lockdown at least until April 27.
“PM employment programme-like schemes can’t replace foreign jobs that provide opportunities for tens of thousands of Nepalis every year,” said Jha.
The track record of the government programme, which is yet to be fully implemented, doesn’t suggest that it can provide jobs to the masses, analysts say.
The programme, which has aimed to generate 100-days of employment for 60,000 registered applicants this year, could only provide 13 days of work on average to a total of 175,909 applicants last fiscal year.
The programme has faced a barrage of criticism for squandering money over unproductive and trivial work such as rearing stray animals and gardening. This year too the programme is running behind schedule with only two months left in the fiscal year.
Prospective migrant workers would have already invested loans worth hundreds of thousands of rupees to secure jobs abroad, and the money the employment programme provides won’t be enough to repay the loans. “Most of them fund their foreign employment through the high-interest loans. So they would rather migrate as the PM employment programme can not give adequate income,” said Jha.
The country has been in lockdown ever since the relief measures were announced, and it’s impossible to gauge how many people would be interested in taking up the 100-day temporary employment. “Even after lockdown is over, we need to see whether affected workers will be actually interested in working under the scheme which deals with small-scale projects and provides limited income,” said Jha.
In addition to that, the threat of the virus and the impending rainy season could make it challenging for workers to get the temporary jobs. “The Covid-19- induced lockdown and health precautions taken by the local governments are delaying the implementation of the scheme,” said Ghimire.
With all these issues factored in, “there is a very slim chance that the programme will be implemented soon,” said Ghimire.
Jha suggests that rather than relying on short-term schemes such as the PM employment fund, the government needs to come up with larger reintegration schemes that address their concerns during a global pandemic like this.