Pity the workersInternational Trade Union Confederation needs to do more for Nepali migrant workers
Tek Bahadur Gurung may no longer be Nepal’s labour minister, but he has left behind a legacy with his ‘zero-cost migration policy’, perhaps, for the wrong reasons. All that minister Gurung had to do was consult with all the concerned stakeholders— manpower agencies, trade unions and foreign hiring companies among others—before making the migration policy public, but he seemed to be in a hurry, with just three months left in office.
As per the new migration policy, migrant workers from Nepal will no longer be required to bear the stinging cost of airfare and visa processing fees, but there are wider implications. It will, among other things, enable countries like Bangladesh to seize Nepal’s quota of employment opportunities in Malaysia and the Gulf region. As a result, over 30 percent of Nepali workers will be jobless. The minister, though, did not find this alarming.
Kumud Khanal, vice-president of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), was direct and precise on this matter: “When Tek Bahadur got the news of his ministership, he transferred the shares of his manpower companies in his son and other relatives’ name. Soon after, he entered into a deal with an American company, Flextronics, for manpower supply. He even managed to extract a sweet deal—free visa and tickets for his workers—and it was all done underhand through one of his Bangladeshi agents, named Amin. It is suspected that it was only after experiencing the benefits of the zero cost policy that he introduced the policy in the country.” He added, “A few months back, he lambasted the Gulf countries for poor treatment of labourers because it served his interests. He hardly spoke on the subject prior to that because earlier he was reaping benefits.’’
Because the issue is related to the well-being of the workers, the role of the International Trade Union Confederation(IUTC) becomes relevant. It is a different matter, though, that the Brussels-based International Trade Union Confederation has maintained deafening silence, even after three Nepali trade unions are affiliated to it and the Nepali workers, from whose pockets annual contribution goes to the global body, suffer.
“The local affiliates pay huge sums of money every year, but nothing comes back to them. We are speaking with local union leaders to demand more from ITUC and if they continue to show ignorance, we will even lodge a formal complaint with the International Labour Organisation. Making sympathetic statements on the plight of Nepali workers, from thousands of miles away does not help. Least developed countries like ours should not be exploited,” said Khanal.
Pushkar Acharya, Member of Parliament from the Nepali Congress and a trade union veteran, believes it may not be completely true. When pressed on the specific issue of whether the benefits reach the workers at the ground level, MP Pushkar Acharya did concede failure on the part of ITUC. “I must admit that the workers are not reaping any benefits out of our association with the confederation.”
Khilanath Dahal, president of the ITUC-affiliate, Nepal Trade Union Congress, was cautious in his opinion on the Brussels-based body: “They send solidarity messages from time to time, but we need more than that.”
Nepal has finally received a constitution, a new lady president, prime minister and labour minister. But the lives of the Nepali migrant workers remain the same. Will workers get a fresh lease of life? Only time will tell.
Koirala is associated with Nepali Congress