The cost of construction worker has almost doubled in the Capital after most of the menial labourers left the Valley in the wake of the April 25 earthquake and aftershocks.
The dearth of labour, coupled with unwillingness of many to work in buildings rendered unsafe by the quakes, has shot up the wage, according to the Federation of Contractor’s Association of Nepal (FCAN).
Labourers working in piecemeal basis are now charging Rs 700-1,000 for an eight-hour day. Many house owners in urgent need of home repairs are also paying an additional sum in commission to agents.
Even before the quake, labour shortage had been a big problem in Kathmandu and other major cities in the country due to attraction towards overseas jobs. Nearly 80 percent of an estimated 300,000 construction workers are believed to have left the Valley following the quake. In the absence of enough workforce, hundreds of companies are now employing Indian and Bangladeshi workers.
A Department of Foreign Employment record shows an average of over 500,000 people have taken permission for jobs overseas in the past five years. That figure does not include thousands of people who migrate every year to various Indian cities for seasonal jobs.
Prakash Dangol, a menial laborer, now earns Rs 700 in wage each day. He used to make Rs 500 just until a month ago.
“As there are not many workers around in Kathmandu, people are paying much higher than before and on time,” said Dangol, who is working in maintenance of Neupane Tower in Tinkune.
A Gorkha native, Dangol said his house was also destroyed in the earthquake , but he decided to stay in the Capital due to better job prospects. “My family depends on my income for everything. Besides, I need money to build a new house,” said Dangol, who has been working as labourer for the past four years.
The FCON says the wages could go up in the coming days with boom in the reconstruction, rebuilding and repair works of buildings damaged in the earthquake . But the federation has made it clear that there has not been any official decision to increase the wage.
It has currently halted construction works due to fear among workers over safety concerns.
“Those who are working now are people working on piecemeal basis on their own or for other freelance contractors,” said FCON President Sharad Kumar Gauchan, adding that there will be a big shortfall of workers as the construction works take pace. He said the federation was preparing to submit a proposal to workers seeking official revision of minimum wage rate to attract enough labourers for the reconstruction.
The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (Gefont), a trade union, has urged the government to formulate a special scheme to attract adequate workforce in the construction sector.
“The government should immediately suspend foreign employment, and offer better pay scheme and facilities to convince semi-skilled workers going to Gulf and Malaysia to work here instead. We are not in a position to import workers from India and Bangladesh,” said Gefont President Bishnu Rimal.
But with the government working to strictly enforce a provision regarding free visa and free air ticket, more Nepalis are expected to take up jobs in the Gulf and Malaysia. Although around 400,000 people enter the labour market every year in the country, most of them go abroad due to better pay and facilities.