Bracing for another blockade far away

Bracing for another blockade far away

PRITAM BHATTARAI, KATHMANDU, June 28:  It seems Nepal faced two blockades in the past two years with the recent one being the diplomatic crisis in Qatar. Nearly five months long economic blockade on Nepal imposed by India immediately after Nepal promulgated its constitution on September 19, 2015 crippled general life and cost a huge loss to country’s economy. India imposed the blockade expressing its displeasure with Nepal’s constitution, arguing it was not inclusive of all the communities.

The recent incident of the seven Gulf countries which declared that they were cutting off diplomatic ties with Qatar has also cost Nepal huge.

The country employs around 400,000 migrant workers alone and the crisis has cast a wave of fear how the crisis would unfold in the days to come and as a result of this, many others aspiring for job in the country are caught in a dilemma.
As it is the fact that remittance, the money sent home by migrant workers, contributes over 30 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the crisis in Qatar has turned out to be a matter of concern.

Last year’s economic sanctions on Nepal and the crisis in Qatar are similar in some ways for Nepal. The government has yet not come up with a concrete plan to compensate in case such crisis may emerge in other labor receiving countries and labor migration is discouraged from Nepal. Similar is the case with our heavy dependence on India for everything necessary for survival. The question always remains unanswered what would happen to the country’s economy if remittance stops coming in?

And the failure to effectively implement the laws and regulations that ensure rights of migrant workers is another serious issue that needs immediate attention. Although issues related to foreign employment have been focused on and some progresses reported over past a few years, the overall scenario is not good.

A report by Amnesty International says that Nepal is failing to enforce laws designed to protect migrant workers from being charged exorbitant fees and the Free Visa, Free Ticket policy is not being implemented or enforced properly. Problems of labor migrants continue and are commonplace in the country. Their rights are violated in residence, transit and destination countries. Their problems range from charging excessive fees than set amounts, exploitation and harassment in destination countries, cheating about the nature of jobs they are offered beforehand and compensation for workplace death and other foreign employment related frauds among others.

The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) receives scores of cases of international employment related fraud on a daily basis.

Every time a government succeeds another one, its most probably the first promise will be to manage foreign employment and ensure rights of migrant workers. But the results always remain dismal. The failure to check haphazard charging of migrant workers and foreign employment related frauds has worsened the situation further.

Supriya Sherpa who hails from Helambu in Sindhupalchok recently returned from Dubai after being deceived about the nature of the work she was offered beforehand. She was promised to get a job as a cleaner at a university there but was forced to work as domestic worker. She said she had to work 22 hours just for what the salary she was agreed on to receive before she was flown to the labour destination. She said she had to face verbal abuses and was made to work irrespective of the period of international standard duty hour for labour migrant. She had flown to the Dubai through Kathmandu-based Shikhar International Manpower and paid Rs 25,000 for the same.

She was however lucky enough to return home safely with her own effort, but the bitter incident has left her devastated and worried about her family future. She has to look after her three-member family as the income her husband, a menial worker, draws cannot support alone. I am wondering what to do next for survival. “I cannot go to foreign countries for employment again nor I think I as an eighth grader drop out could get any job back home,” said impoverished Sherpa who is in her 20s.

“If the government would create job opportunities I could be fitted into one suitable to my skills and knowledge.”
Sherpa is just a case in point. According to the Amnesty International report, more than 2,000 cases were filed by migrant workers against recruitment agencies in Nepal last year, but only four have so far been referred for prosecution.
According to the DoFE, 418713 labor permits were issued in the fiscal year 2015\16, excluding labor movement through irregular channels.

However, Nepal’s recent ascent to the post of deputy member in the governing body of the International Labor Organisation (ILO), 50 years after it became member of the United Nations body, has raised hope for substantial reforms in foreign employment. As the members of the governing body are powerful with their greater say in the making of labor-friendly laws, and making an amendment to acts and laws among others, reforms in Nepal’s foreign employment are expected.