Foreign employment officials, recruiting agencies in confrontation modeRecruiting agencies have been dissatisfied over the recent spate of action taken against them by the Department of Foreign Employment. But officials say the agencies are merely venting their frustration.
The last few days have been quite eventful for government bodies overseeing the foreign employment sector and recruiting agencies that supply workers to foreign employers.
On Sunday, recruiting agencies associated with Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), a grouping of 854 recruiting agencies, demonstrated outside the office of the Department of Foreign Employment, Buddhanagar.
They shouted slogans against the government, the director-general of the Foreign Employment Department, and threatened to halt their operations if their demands are not met. Two days later, on Tuesday, a group of representatives from various recruiting agencies visited the Foreign Employment Office in Tahachal to carry out a surprise “inspection” of the office.
These events suggest that the government bodies concerned and the recruiting agencies are in the mood for a confrontation.
Foreign employment officials have intensified the monitoring of recruiting agencies and taken action against various agencies involved in malpractices. According to the department, more prospective migrant workers have been duped, sent to work on visit visas, and overcharged since labour migration resumed after several months of suspension due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Kumar Prasad Dahal, director-general of the department, said that the recruiting agencies are venting their frustration on government agencies. “Recruiting agencies have been unable to work in the manner they had been doing in the past. The general public is now aware, and it’s not easy for them to cheat migrant workers easily anymore,” Dahal told the Post.
Representatives from the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies representatives, however, have a different take on the issue. Sujeet Kumar Shrestha, the association’s general secretary, said the situation of confrontation arose after the agencies’ concerns were shelved for a long time.
“We visited the foreign employment department and met the director-general several times to express our concerns,” said Shrestha. “But our concerns were not addressed.”
The Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies had presented a list of 20 demands before the department criticising it for taking action against recruiting agencies arbitrarily.
The association has demanded that the government resolve issues related to the Foreign Employment Information Management System—the integrated online platform on which major stakeholders of labour migration share details—allow agencies to open branch offices outside the Kathmandu Valley and treat agency operators with respect, among others. Likewise, they have also criticised the department for penalising and suspending the operating licence of some others.
According to the association, the government body has been deducting money from their guarantee amount to provide compensation for migrant workers who return home due to various reasons such as ill-health.
“When workers file complaints against recruiting agencies, the department deducts money from the guarantee agencies deposit with the government even without informing them. The department should give them the opportunity to defend themselves,” said Shrestha. “Such activities should stop, and action should be taken only if the agency concerned doesn’t respond to notices from the department.”
“If the responsible officials do not inspect agencies then who will? Deducting money from guarantee deposit is not against prevailing rules,” said Dahal. “We don't have to go on asking them. We can’t do that. The department will continue to do its work.”
According to Dahal, only a handful of demands presented by the agencies directly concern the department.
“We can look into those particular demands,” said Dahal.
Recruiting agencies have also complained that the department invites selected media outlets that portray foreign employment agencies in a bad light when it inspects recruiting agencies.
“Four or five demands can be addressed immediately. We are hoping that a consensus will be reached as soon as there is a meeting at the department on Sunday,” said Shrestha.
The Labour Ministry has also formed a nine-member committee, which includes representatives of recruiting agencies, to look into the issue.
“The main thing is that recruiting agencies should maintain professionalism and abide by professional ethics,” said Dahal, director-general of the department. “Who gave recruiting agencies the right to inspect the Tahachal office? Should the umbrella body of industries now start inspecting the department of customs? Such activities are not acceptable.”