Nepal's Exodus for Foreign Employment
Some 600 leave the country daily for foreign employment. KESHAR KUMAR LAMGADE calls for better services for migrant workers.
KATHMANDU- On a very cold January morning, Raj Narayan Chaudhari, 33, arrives at Kalanki, Kathmandu from his village of Dumarwana, near Birgunj in Bara District. Accompanying him are his cousins, Dipendra Chaudhari, 24 and Manoj Chaudhari, 21. He is slightly apprehensive about taking the responsibility of guiding his cousins to a reliable foreign employment office in Kathmandu. He needs to be particularly careful about guarding their passports and money now in his possession. He will eventually have to hand them over to a foreign employment agent in the capital.
Chaudhari's cousins are visibly excited about the prospects of going aboard for employment. They have often expressed their dreams of earning a lot of money if they could go overseas. They are both certainly aware that for two years Raj Narayan used to earn around Rs. 17,000 a month when he was working for a car spare parts company in Qatar. His job was also not that difficult. The only reason he returned to Nepal is to enhance his skills. He wishes to get some formal training as a vehicle mechanic or a salesman so that he will get a better salary when he goes back to Qatar.
Globalization has certainly opened up various opportunities for Nepali citizens to migrate to other countries for jobs. The trend of youths seeking to go overseas for employment, in large numbers, is not new to Nepal anymore. It began some twelve years ago when Maoists rebels launched a campaign to recruit youths as combatants in their army for insurgency operations. The armed struggle not only closed down countless industries, large and small; but also strangled those in the verge of opening. The worsening security situation directly hit the national economy causing it to rapidly weaken, and therefore the opportunity for new jobs dwindled.
Although the armed struggle is now officially over, the exodus of youths still continues. According to an official register at the Department of Labour and Employment Promotion at Naya Baneshwar more than 0.11 million Nepali workers left the country for different foreign jobs during the first six months of the current fiscal year, from mid July 2007 to mid January 2008. Badri Rajthala, a government employee at DoLEP who maintains the register said, “The figure for the same period in past year is only 0.09 million.”
According to Rajthala, Qatar is now the most favorite labour destination; Malaysia comes only in second. Malaysia is becoming a less attractive destination because it now gets cheaper labour from Bangladesh. According to the Kantipur daily newspaper of Sep 12, 2007, Nepali workers get Malaysian Ringgit 18 for 8 hours work, but Bangladeshi workers are now prepared to work for only Ringgit 15 for the same period.
“There is hardly any job prospect for the youths in Nepal,” said Bishnu Baral, 28, Executive Director of Best Overseas Private Limited, a manpower office at Maiti Devi. “There is an increasing preference among Nepali youths to accept manual jobs in the Gulf countries.”
According to Baral, well-paying jobs are only for those who have received proper training and experience. People who have some training or experience in security jobs or those who are trained drivers and possess a valid driving license would get employed relatively easily than those who are untrained. But most of the Nepali workers lack the skills sought by the overseas employers. These people are forced to labour positions because they are not skilled or trained in any technical or mechanical fields.
Devi Prasad Paudel, 47, a recruitment agent, said, “Even uniformed people in the Nepal Army and Armed Police Force are prepared to leave their current careers to work in Kuwait, Jordan or Iraq provided their monthly earning is above NRs 20,000. If the salary is good, almost all illiterate as well as well educated people aspire to accept, manual or semi-manual jobs, normally thought demeaning in Nepal.”
According to Paudel, most of the young workers seeking foreign employment are simply not interested in investing their time and money to receive some technical training. Most migrant workers normally have to sell some of their properties like houses or lands, or borrow money at high interest rates to fund their travel abroad. With this reality, they are simply in a hurry to leave the country and start earning.
And earn they do, whatever the working circumstances or the material or mental cost. An article "Power of Manpower” in the June 15, 2007 issue of The Boss magazine, citing statistics from Nepal Rastra Bank, the country’s central bank, says that the Nepali economy in 2004/05 earned over US$ 922 million in remittances from overseas workers. This accounted for 12.4 percent of national GDP.
The monies have definitely brought some benefits to the country. The Boss article further says, “The remittance money has a profound and growing impact on poverty and resource distribution in the country. At micro level, remittances shore up household income and buying capacity, while also contributing to savings; at macro level, remittance inflows is helping generate local commodity markets and local employment opportunities.”
The latest estimate is that Nepal receives over NRs 100 billion from Nepalis working abroad. However, this money comes with a heavy price tag; 754 Nepali workers died abroad last year, according to the Kathmandu Post of Jan 5, 2008. Forty nine percent and 27 percent deaths were attributed to natural causes and traffic accidents respectively; 11 percent deaths were caused by accidents at work and 13 percent because of suicides. Many Nepali workers were cheated and charged exorbitant commissions by local unscrupulous middlemen liaising between employers and workers.
Hundreds of Nepali workers have also landed up in foreign jails, the latest being Dolma Sherpa, 27, a resident of Gumba-8, Sindupalchowk. She has been languishing for the last seven months in Shamiya central jail of Kuwait. She has been found guilty of murdering a Filipino domestic worker, and slapped with a death sentence by the local Kuwaiti court. She has appealed to the Appellate Court of Kuwait against this decision of the lower court. Nepal’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is taking diplomatic steps to save her life.
Nepal’s Foreign Employment Act requires the government to appoint a Labour Attaché in countries where the number of Nepali worker exceeds 5,000, but there are many countries awaiting such appointments. However, the government now seems to be taking the foreign employment seriously. The Labour Minister, Ramesh Lekhak signed a protocol on January 20, 2008 with his counterpart in Qatar where 0.25 million Nepali workers are estimated to be working. The Israeli Embassy in Kathmandu has also said that its government is now preparing a draft on recruiting Nepali workers for Israel which had halted recruitment from Nepal on May 1, 2007.
Lekhak also recently attended the 4th Asian Labour Ministers’ Conference from January 21 - 22 held in Abu Dhabi, UAE. Labour ministers and high ranking officials of labour exporting countries (like Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Indonesia and Philippines), and labour importing countries (like Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan) attended this meeting.
Nepal’s main aim is to focus on resolving problems between labour source and host countries, and also to speak up for better wages and working conditions and other facilities at par with the standards fixed by the International Labour Organization.
Foreign employment has its own merits and demerits. As long as permanent peace does not prevail in the country; Nepali youths will continue to leave the country at the rate of 600 per day.
Raj Narayan’s only concern now is to get his cousins over to any Gulf country. Once they are over there, it’s only a matter of time when he will complete his training and join the 600 people flying out of the country daily looking for greener pastures.
Posted by Editor on February 13, 2008 7:03 PM