By Joseph Varghese/Staff Reporter

While illegal recruitment and middlemen are causing problems for Nepali workers  who want to take up jobs abroad, the government of Nepal has taken several steps to ensure that foreign job aspirants are not exploited at home.
Suresh Man Shrestha, secretary at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, told Gulf Times that his government’s efforts in this regard had started  paying dividends . “As per the  rules, government can cancel the licence of recruiters who charge high service fees. Violators can even be imprisoned  for two years. In addition, they are liable to pay a fine of up to NR100,000.
“Another issue is that many recruitment companies are submitting fake medical certificates. There are 203 medical centres approved by the government of Nepal. But most of them do not have enough facilities for medical checkup. Qatar does not have approved medical centres in Nepal.  Government officials make frequent raids to stop illegal recruitment and they are fruitful to a great extent.”
However, the official pointed out that GCC countries, including Qatar, have  to plug many loopholes in the whole process. “Qatar has to fix a minimum wages for the Nepali workers to stop their exploitation by employers. Qatari employers have to bear  all the expenses for recruitment so that the workers are not burdened before they reach their destination.”
He was quick to add that many reputable companies in Qatar paid good salaries to Nepali workers but most of the ordinary companies paid low salaries.
He noted that there were other issues related to employers. “There are some  complaints  that contracts are being switched in Qatar. Some companies change contracts and reduce the salaries when workers reach Qatar. Some of the companies do not provide residence permit on time, making the workers illegal aliens for long periods.”
The labour secretary said that it was the small companies that created the big  problems for  workers. “Small companies do not treat workers decently. Many of them pay low salaries and in some cases salaries are not paid on time and for some, even vacation is denied.”
Shrestha also objected to the practice of outsourcing of jobs which, he said, was detrimental to the interest of workers. “Small outsourcing companies in Qatar are creating the biggest problems. The margin of profit for them is very big but the workers are denied the benefits. Manpower companies are responsible for most of the flak received by Qatar from global bodies like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.”
The official also pointed out that the Nepal government had enacted a law that provided for assistance to workers who died or met with accidents abroad. “The family gets NR150,000 in case of death and accidents. There is also a compulsory insurance scheme for people going abroad with a provision for financial aid in case of death and accidents.”
The official said that Qatar government had very good laws but it must improve the enforcement mechanism. He urged strict action against erring employers and prompt redressal of workers’ grievances, including delay in payment of salaries. “The government also should amend the sponsorship system and lift the two-year ban.”
According to him, Nepal sends around 500,000 workers annually to 109 countries. “There are about 400,000-500,000 Nepali workers in Qatar but the data on the number of returning workers is not available. Many of the recruitment agencies now deal only with reputable companies in Qatar.”
The official also referred to the efforts taken by the government in streamlining the recruitment process. “Recruitment companies have been asked to brief  the workers on the living conditions in the destination countries. The government is also planning  to open a special office for Qatar.”
He suggested that Qatar officials hold regular meetings with the Nepali embassy  to understand the workers’ problems in the country. He suggested putting an end to the sub-agent system in both countries. “If direct recruitment takes place, most of the problems can be avoided. At least 50 % government recruitment and 50% private recruitment will solve the problems. We have set up direct recruitment through government channels to Korea and Israel. This has solved most of the problems.”
Another senior official of the labour ministry said the government had made it mandatory for all the returning workers to renew their permit. “All the returning workers have to renew the permit once in two years. They have to pay for the insurance and NR1,000 for the welfare scheme. There is also a two-day orientation for all the workers going abroad for the first time. The pre-departure orientation for the workers is compulsory and conducted by private organisations.
“Still there are complaints but it is natural looking at the large number of workers we send abroad every year. In 2013, we  sent more than 50,000 workers to Qatar alone.”
He also pointed out that Nepal had an MoU on labour with Qatar. “We are asking for  a minimum wage agreement with Qatar but Doha has not yet agreed to it. “
The official pointed out that Nepal had taken a number of initiatives to educate the workers on various rules and regulations. “We have opened a number of information centres in different districts. Assistance counters have been set up in two districts and we are planning to start the same in another 22 districts in the country. With such initiatives we are planning to overcome the challenges and difficulties that the workers may face and make them aware of the realities in most of the countries.”
He said that overseas workers were one of the biggest sources of income for the country. But at the same it created many social and cultural problems and the divide between the haves and the have-nots was becoming more and more evident. “Of course the country gets around NR400bn  from overseas workers every year. But we are facing many social problems too. Agriculture which is the main stay of the country is getting neglected.”
He also said overseas workers were not using their income in a proper way. “There is no productive investment from their part as most of the money is spent on luxury items due to a careless lifestyle. Migration has affected the culture and traditions of the country in a big way. As most of the  workers who abroad are male, women have to take the central role in a family. A good number of women have started attending funerals which was a taboo earlier. We will have to wait and watch how these changes will affect the country in the long run,” he added.

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