The Ministry of Labour and Employment grabbed media headlines for all the wrong reasons recently. First, it came under criticism for misusing the migrant workers’ welfare fund, and now it is venturing towards a controversial move of lifting the ban on Nepali female workers from going to the Gulf countries without signing a separate labour agreement to ensure their rights and safety. Roshan Sedhai talks with State Minister for Ministry of Labour and Employment Tek Bahadur Gurung to find out what the government has to say about its recent decisions.
Why is the government in a haste to lift the ban on Nepali women from visiting the Gulf states without ensuring their security first?
Many women are taking informal routes to go to the Gulf. Human traffickers are taking them via India and Bangladesh. The government is not in a position to stop them. I agree that there is a need for a labour agreement. The ministry has even formulated a new guideline on domestic workers in other to protect and promote their rights. We are working to sign agency-to-agency agreement comprising stakeholders from both labour receiving and sending countries. We plan to lift the ban soon after it is done. But, we will make effort to sign Memorandum of Understanding within six months or a year after lifting the ban.
Migrant workers in Qatar are unhappy with agendas you’ve raised with the Qatari delegation earlier this month. They said the focus should have been on safety, security and economic exploitation of workers.
Zero-recruitment cost for migrant workers was just one of the several agendas of the meeting. There had also been discussion on migrants’ insurance, job security, payment of wage promised in the contract and better facilities, among others. It was obvious for cost-free recruitment process to dominate the discussion as many Nepalis still pay huge money in recruitment process. Workers in all labour sending countries are paying higher fees despite labour receiving countries pledge for zero-cost migration. There are problems both in recruiting agencies of Nepal and Human Resource agencies in Qatar. This problem cannot be solved unless the two countries work together.
Official record shows significant increase in foreign employment fraud cases. Why is your ministry not taking strong approach to discourage foreign employment frauds?
The ministry has been doing everythign possible to tackle fraud cases despite limted resources. But it’s also true that such cases are increasing every year. I think we cannot eliminate fraud until we end the middlemen culture in the foreign employment. There is a need to raise public awareness at grassroots level. People should be taught to directly contact the recruiting agencies, instead of handing their money and passports to middlemen.
There is an allegation that you work for the interest of recruiting agencies. What do you have to say to that?
That’s not true. People might have made such allegation because I come from foreign employment recruiting business background. Migrant workers are my top priority, so is their rights and security. I want to create an environment where migrant workers can work freely. At the same time, I also feel that the labour ministry should also promote and support recruiting agencies. We cannot get rid of anomalies prevalent in this sector without support from the recruiting agencies.
The ministry has been using the migrant workers’ welfare fund to cover administrative and government expenses. Isn’t it unethical?
It’s not right to term the use of fund in purchase of cars for embassies based in work destinations as misuse. The cars were purchased for benefit of the migrant workers. It’s difficult for embassies to provide service as the government doesn’t allocate budget for the migrants despite collecting service charges. The Foreign Employment Promotion Board has been compelled to use the fund due to lack of government fund. We had allocated the budget for the Malaysia visit of some Constituent Assembly members as it was in the Board’s programme calendar, but they later managed other resources following criticisms. But I don’t think it was a misuse of fund as they were going there to study the condition of migrant workers and suggest reforms to ensure their rights and welfare.
Source: The Kathmandu Post