Fellow citizens abroadThe government should ensure that Nepali migrant workers are adequately protected
News about Nepali migrant workers being stranded, trafficked, smuggled, detained, deported or killed in road accidents appear everyday in the media. Likewise, we hear about workers found dead, lying in a coma or committing suicide. More than two coffins arrive at Tribhuvan International Airport daily from various labour destinations. Against this backdrop, we can easily assume the condition of Nepali migrant workers and their desperate family members who depend on them for their daily bread.
Foreign employment is a global and natural phenomenon and has been established as a right of the people. There are many pull and push factors in foreign employment. Lack of jobs in the home country, conflict, poverty, inequality, political instability, desire for a better life and future security are some key reasons why people migrate. The Multidimensional Poverty Index 2018 shows that 28.6 percent of the population of Nepal is multidimensionally poor. Foreign employment has become more of a compulsion than a choice for many Nepalis. An estimated 600,000 Nepali migrant workers are living in foreign countries excluding India. Therefore, it is a major concern of the government to protect their rights and shield them from any hardship they may face at different stages of the migration cycle.
Good governance is a term frequently used by administrators, scholars, academicians and donors. There is no universal definition of good governance. Literally, good governance is associated with best governance. It is a foundation for development and prosperity. Good governance is key to the realisation of human rights including the rights of migrant workers. Good governance and human rights have shared values and principles of participation, accountability, transparency, rule of law, inclusiveness and responsibility. Good governance makes the government accountable, and provides a guide for efficient and effective performance.
There are many issues related to foreign employment that need to be addressed. Among them are cost of migration, falsehood and deceit, falsification of documents, hazardous working conditions, forced labour, slavery, long working hours, low pay, physical and mental abuse especially of women workers, lack of access to justice due to centralised structure and lack of diplomatic presence in the destination countries.
The government announced its ambitious free visa, free ticket scheme in June 2015, but its implementation was poor. A study report issued by the parliamentary International Relations and Labour Committee concluded that the scheme was a complete failure and that none of the migrant workers benefited from it. The same report revealed that 60 percent of the arrangements were made at Tribhuvan International Airport and that Nepali workers were being ‘sold like goats’, but there has been no adequate action on the government’s part to punish the culprits involved in such activities.
A study report published recently by Nepal Rastra Bank about ‘the effect of the free visa, free ticket scheme on foreign employment’ shows that only 35.8 percent of the migrant workers benefited from it, and that 27.8 percent were compelled to pay more than Rs 50,000 to recruitment agencies. These facts show the poor performance and lack of good governance in the foreign employment sector.
Despite national and international efforts to reduce problems for migrant workers, they still encounter many hardships. Migrant workers might be at risk and become a victim of human rights violation at any stage of the migration cycle. Therefore, a limited effort might not be adequate, and a comprehensive effort needs to be made by all stakeholders in the countries of origin, transit and destination to tackle the problem. For this, the workers themselves, recruiting agencies, the government, human rights institutions and diplomatic missions should work together.
The removal of additional fees charged for Malaysia and crackdown on recruitment agencies by the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security over the last few months is highly laudable. However, much needs to be done in the area of foreign employment to make it safe, orderly and dignified.
Things to do
Foreign recruitment agencies have to be made more responsible, a fair recruitment process must be ensured, effective monitoring of recruiting agencies should be ensured, laws have to be reformed, the free visa, free ticket scheme must be effectively executed, the online labour permit system must be made effective to prevent unnecessary hassles, legal action should be initiated against perpetrators involved in fraudulent activities, and access to justice for victims must be ensured by decentralising the services of the Department of Foreign Employment.
In conclusion, the government should explore labour and human rights-friendly developed countries for foreign employment, focus on bilateral agreements, make the diplomatic machinery vibrant and effective, and maintain good governance to protect the rights of Nepali migrant workers.
Kafle is the focal officer for the rights of migrant workers in the National Human Rights Commission, Pokhara