Unscrupulous intermediariesEnsuring pro-migrant worker regime in Nepal is perilous unless culpable agents are tried within the ambit of law
Foreign employment serves to be the strongest pillar in engendering employment options for a large number of the young Nepali population. Nepali workers are forced to leave the comfort of their homes and are exposed to precarious conditions while on a journey to earn enough money to live better their lives. The exponential rise in foreign labour migration has produced a snowball effect on the economy of the nation. As documented by the World Bank, remittance received by Nepal in 2000 was recorded to constitute 2.029 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This figure significantly increased to 31.753 percent in 2015. The dramatic variation in the economic development of the state has proved to establish the fact that migration is increasingly significant for livelihood, economic development, political stability, academic discourse and policy planning in Nepal.
Lifting the veil
Remittance may serve to be the strongest pillar of the economic and financial facets of the country, but the migrant workers have been shadowed by glitches, anomalies and complications. Unsurprisingly, the root of the plight of migrant workers originates from their own homeland. Studies have identified that the vulnerability of workers at home is exacerbated by fellow Nepalis, often labelled as ‘agents’ (dalals, brokers, or intermediaries). The foreign employment practice in Nepal largely incorporates the role of individual agents in the entire process of migration. With the fraudulent acts and false promises of these agents, the problems associated with every Nepali migrant worker starts at home. The workers encounter tremendous pre-departure malpractice and exploitation at home by different individual agents during different stages of processing. Although these epidemic and repetitive ill activities of intermediaries are dominant and deeply rooted, the agents have been allowed to walk free in the absence of proper laws to curb their wrongdoings and misconduct.
The state has turned a blind eye towards the exploitation and human rights violations that migrant workers are routinely exposed to. The centralised judicial structure set out by the Foreign Employment Act (2007) of Nepal vested sole authority to hear complaints and investigate the offences related to foreign employment to the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE). This has been an essential determinant behind the impunity of agents. Initiated by the local police’s reluctance to file complaints and the DoFE’s lack of responsiveness to the same, cases of workers having to bear unnecessary travel and accommodation costs often go without investigation, allowing intermediary agents to go unpunished for their misconduct. Hence, the real challenge of establishing a pro-migrant worker regime in recent times is to bring the agents under the jurisdiction of the court.
Narrowing the justice gap
The Gulf Visit Study Report prepared and launched by the International Relation and Labour Committee of Legislature-Parliament rests on the fact that a logical solution to solving the problems at home solves 80 percent of the problems concerning migrant workers. A qualitative improvement of the overall situation of Nepali migrant workers calls for a proper “regulatory” arrangement vis-à-vis the brokers. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) further reports that 94 percent of cases registered under NHRC were against these agents. This shows where some of the major problems of labour migration governance lies.
The existing regulatory mechanisms have not been utilised to their full efficacy and often fall short in addressing the actual concerns of the workers because of the complex legal and judicial procedures. Structural changes in the judicial setting will help bring perpetrators under the law, and victims towards access to justice. Nothing big, complex and overwhelming is required. Simply a small, manageable way out for indicting the wrongs of agents will win half the battle in establishing a pro-migrant worker regime. It’s all about putting a little effort in the right direction. Decentralising and delegating the complaint hearing authority of DoFE at the local and community level, either by handing the authority to the local police or establishing a local complaint hearing office for now will definitely get the ball rolling.
Devkota is an advocate and holds an LLM in Rule of Law for Development from Loyola University, Chicago