Nepal has expressed readiness to lift the ban imposed on women from visiting Saudi Arabia to work as housemaids, on condition that the latter agrees with the conditions proposed in the memorandum of understanding on the safety and security of domestic workers.
The labour pact seeks “explicit assurance” for safety and security of the housemaids from the host nation.
The government prohibited Nepali women from going to Gulf countries as domestic workers in July, citing rampant abuse and exploitation. Earlier, the government had imposed an age restriction for maids below 30 years to work in the Gulf, after briefly lifting a blanket ban that lasted for a year.
In a meeting with a delegation from Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Nepal requested the Saudi side to enlist a set provision on recruitment procedure, minimum wage, and issues relating to rights and welfare of the workers in the MoU. Some of the issues raised by Nepal include providing minimum wage of 300 USD, opening community outreach centre for housemaids, and ensuring leave, food and accommodation facilities. Officials attending the meeting said the Saudi side was reluctant to keep “explicit provisions” in the MoU.
“They have mainly objected to annexing the basic criteria in the agreement as well as setting up community outreach centres,” said an official at the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The third largest work destination for Nepali workers after Malaysia and Qatar, Saudi Arabia is one of the worst places for domestic workers , according to Human Rights Watch.
The Nepali embassy in Riyadh estimates that 40,000 Nepali women, who came through illegal channels, are working in Saudi Arabia. The embassy has so far rescued and repatriated around 300 women who had faced physical, economic and psychological exploitation at the hands of their employers.
In August, Saudi Arabia beheaded Shova Pariyar, a Nepali housemaid from Tanahu district, after she was convicted of murdering a two-year-old child of her employers.
Ministry spokesman Buddhi Bahadur Khadka said the labour receiving countries should first sign a separate labour pact on domestic workers as a precondition to recruiting Nepali women.
“We will be holding discussions with other countries as well,” said Khadka.
The government has also prepared guidelines to specify the recruitment procedure to be followed by foreign employment agencies, pay and other benefits for domestic workers , and a rescue mechanism.
The Saudi delegation is scheduled to meet State Minister for Labour and Employment Tek Bahadur Gurung on Tuesday. Earlier in June, Gurung had met with his Saudi counterpart Moufarrej bin Saad Al-Haqbani on the sidelines of the International Labour Conference in Geneva and discussed the prospect of lifting the ban on Nepali women from visiting the Gulf for employment as housemaids.
Though willing to recruit housemaids through legal means, Saudi Arabia has again declined to sign an agreement for general workers.
Recruiting agencies say the country is diverting its attention to Nepali maids following the stringent measures adopted by East Asian countries to discourage female workers from going there.