News about Nepali migrant workers and their woes especially in the Middle East country appears nearly every day or so in the leading dailies of the country. It was not a long time ago that we saw an international coverage and furor about the heart rendering condition of Nepali workers in Qatar who had been forced to work overtime and without pay under scorching heat of Qatar building the football stadiums for World Cup 2010 and losing their lives in the process (Guardian, September 25, 2103).
Similarly, another news article recently highlighted the desperate condition of twelve Nepali migrant workers were fighting to survive in Qatar without having received proper food, bed for the past one month. The news article stated how they had been sent through one of the many Kathmandu based employment agencies promising good pay but they were welcomed in Qatar with bleak prospect of no jobs and held at the company illegally without any work or pay (ekantipur.com, November 26,2013).
According to World Bank reports, Nepal is ranked sixth out of the top ten earners from Qatar with total estimated remittance of $634 million sent by 2,99,000 Nepali workers in Qatar (samsaramoney.com).
The Government of Nepal has as per the power conferred by section 23 of the Foreign Employment Act, 2008 set a minimum wage for Nepali workers in Qatar plus other allowances which includes round-trip travel expense, health cost, working hours, labor rights under Qatar laws as well ( GoN). Although these rules ensure migrant workers right, in reality none of them are followed which was seen in the case of the migrant workers at Qatar’s Football stadium. In the case of the 12 migrant workers they had actually given their last 1000 Riyal to the company to purchases return air ticket and the company after receiving the money had turned tone deaf to their woes. The manpower in question also ignored their pleas and they have requested the Foreign Employment Department to take action against the agency ( ekantipur.com, November 26,2013).
To make matters worse it is found that the cycle of exploitation actually starts from home itself.
Contrary to popular belief agencies that cheat people are not all illegal. They are actually legal agencies like in the case of the 12 Nepali workers who had been sent through the Swift Gurkha manpower company. It was stated that the workers had submitted Rs 80,000 as processing fee which is more than the government approved fee of Rs 70,000 (GoN).
Extorting money from vulnerable workers is further noted in the article published by the Guardian, dated October 2.2013 where a Nepali migrant worker lamented how he had to pay Rs 1,10,000 to the agency as charge for employment. It is strictly stated in the Government of Nepal, Department of labor and Transport notice regarding country wise cost that any agency found to be charging more money than the stated amount would face strict actions by the government (GoN).
Furthermore, there is a big communication gap in terms of migrant workers and government procedures , rights and helps provided to them.
Most migrant workers are not even aware of the terms and condition in their contract. As per the rules for migrant workers seeking work in Qatar for work, the contract document has to be in Nepali, English and Arabic. They could either enter the contract with the employer in Qatar or through the recruitment agencies in Nepal( Ceslam.org). The guardian article quotes migrant workers stating that since most of the contracts were in English and due to not knowing the language they had to rely on the recruitment agent’s words ( Guardian, October 2, 2013). Moreover, contracts are mostly found to be handed to the migrant workers at the airport right before their departure to the destination country. This shows how migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation from recruitment agencies. The cycle of exploitation starts at the airport too from custom officials, guards etc who sell departure cards and try to extort money accusing them of fake passport and such (Nepalitimes.com, September 19,2013).
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) recently arrested employees from the Department of Immigration, Airport Customs, and the Department of Foreign Labor which many print media lamented was late in action. A report regarding extortion at Kathmandu’s airport estimated to be nearly Rs 2 million daily had been submitted two years ago and it was only recently that any action was carried out to address them(Nepalitimes.com, September 19,2013).
Nepal has good labor laws but till they have mostly been relegated to ink and paper only. Majority of the migrant workers are not even aware of their rights of helps provided. The Government of Nepal under the Foreign Employment Promotion board has a welfare fund for migrant worker which official’s state has a surplus of more than $18m ( Guardian, October 2, 2013). As per government rules, every migrant worker has to pay Rs 1000 to the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund which is supposed to provide them help in case of death, accidents and awareness and skill training (ceslam.org). The report in the Guardian quotes official from the Amnesty International remark that a survey carried out by them found out that nearly 95%their migrant workers were not aware of this help ( Guardian, October 2, 2013). As per rules migrant workers also have to undertake two-day orientation training from the government-recognized institution but despite this there are still many migrant workers languishing in desperate condition in Qatar (ceslam.org).
The crack down on airport officials is one of the many things that the Nepal government needs to undertake to ensure the protection of its worker as well as continue to establish help centers in the destination country like safe houses for its workers. It has to ensure that the laws and regulations are stringently being followed by the recruitment agencies and start disseminating information regarding the various programs and help offered to workers so that they do not fall prey to the treacherous agents. The need to focus on educating the prospective migrant workers is greater than ever.
Astha completed her undergraduate degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) and is working as a research assistant at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation.