Workers going to Qatar and Kuwait paying hefty amounts as zero cost policy falters, report saysA study on recruitment of Nepali workers for Kuwait and Qatar urges the Nepal government to eliminate payment of fees and other costs by migrant workers to recruiting agencies and sub-agents for ensuring ‘zero cost’ foreign jobs.
On Tuesday, when Nepal government announced applications for caregiver jobs in Israel that makes Nepali workers pay for their flight tickets and other related recruitment costs, a human rights orgnisation’s report the same day urged the Nepali authorities to make all worker fee payments illegal and significantly increase their enforcement capacity for ensuring fair recruitment.
FairSquare Projects, a London-based non-profit human rights organisation with a focus on migrant workers’ rights, in its latest report on recruitment practices in Nepal, Kuwait and Qatar said that Nepal should eliminate recruitment fees being paid by its migrant workers to prevent their exploitation.
The 164-page report, Nepal to Kuwait and Qatar: Fair Recruitment in Review, which examines how workers from Nepal are recruited for work in Kuwait and Qatar, has found that Nepali workers continue to pay hefty amounts for securing jobs in these countries.
“Nepal's migrant workers make huge sacrifices to support their families and Nepal's economy and they deserve every protection that the Nepali state can provide, which includes ensuring that recruitment is fair,” said Anurag Devkota, human rights lawyer and FairSquare’s Nepal researcher.
“This report reflects where progress has been made in that regard, but its key contribution is in outlining to the government the precise steps that it needs to take to end systematic abuse in the recruitment process, starting with the abolition of fees.”
The recent example of Nepali migrants paying various fees and costs is for Israeli jobs for which each worker will be paying for the air ticket, medical examination, insurance, and contribution to the Foreign Employee Welfare Fund, which can amount to around Rs100,000. Making workers pay for overseas jobs was criticised by labour migration stakeholders, calling it a step back in Nepal government’s zero cost jobs policy.
Things have not been any better while recruiting Nepali job seekers for Qatar and Kuwait, two of the most preferred labour destinations for Nepalis in the Persian Gulf region, where they are usually taking up low-paid jobs in construction, hospitality, retail, security and domestic work sectors.
As per the report’s findings, Nepali workers are compelled to pay several fold more money than the government fixed ceiling for overseas jobs, indicating shoddy implementation of its own policies of regulating unethical recruitment practices and protecting poor migrants from financial exploitation.
In 2015, the Nepal government enforced ‘Free Visa: Free Ticket’ policy, setting a maximum amount of Rs10,000 to be charged to workers migrating to Gulf countries, including Qatar and Kuwait, and Malaysia.
In recent years, the Nepal government also prioritised ‘zero cost’ jobs for Nepali workers, which relieved them of any recruitment fees and other costs, ‘employer pays’ model, under which the employer is responsible for all the fees and costs of hiring.
The report, a part of the Five Corridors Project, which has been seeking to provide guidance on what states can do to ensure fair and ethical recruitment, commended elements of government policy of promoting zero cost jobs but recommends Nepal drop recruitment fee cap in favour of true ‘zero-cost’ model, in line with international standards.
In 2019, the Supreme Court ordered government bodies to enforce the ‘Free Visa: Free Ticket’ policy effectively.
However, in reality, migrant workers en route to countries like Qatar, Kuwait and even Malaysia have been fleeced by recruiting agencies and sub-agents, while recent labour understandings, which promised free jobs and free visa and free ticket policy, remain far from implementation.
According to the report, Nepali workers routinely pay far in excess of the legal cap, with sums up to Rs160,000.
Some workers researchers spoke with during the investigation told them that when they refused to pay fees above the legal cap, agents told them that their jobs did not fall under the policy, or that their employers refused to cover any recruitment-related costs.
Others reported not getting any receipts for the payment of fees, receiving receipts only for Rs10,000, or being threatened with deportation if they reported how much they had actually paid. One aspirant migrant worker, who had to sell his bike and some gold in order to pay Rs116,000 to fund his migration to Kuwait, told researchers that he was asked on the day he travelled to record a video clip in English stating that he had only paid Rs10,000.
The report pointed out that the failure to ban recruitment fees outright creates a grey zone that enables agencies to charge far in excess of the legal limit.
Besides, Nepali workers being exploited upon landing in these countries has been rampant for several years now. Earlier this month, another report showed how Nepali workers were facing various abuses in Qatar’ high-end hotels built to host visitors for the FIFA 2022 Football World Cup.
The latest report of FairSquare Projects also highlighted how the investigation capacity and efforts of the Department of Foreign Employment, the central body overseeing country’s labour migration sector, is out of step and inadequate compared to rampant fraudulent activities identified in Nepal’s recruitment industry. As per the report, the department continues to employ only four investigators, while there are more than 850 licensed recruiting agencies and tens of thousands of informal sub-agents involved in the recruitment process.
FairSquare Projects’ report also recommended that Nepal significantly strengthen the capacity of diplomatic missions in the Persian Gulf region to support migrant workers facing exploitation and other abuses.
“Nepal generates huge sums of money from the remittances that its migrant workers send home, yet it allocates scant resources to ensuring that the ministries with a mandate to protect these workers are adequately staffed and properly trained,” said Devkota, the human rights lawyer, who is also associated with the Law and Policy Forum for Social Justice, a Kathmandu-based organisation that works on migrant rights issues. “That's a self-defeating policy both in economic and human rights terms.”