KATHMANDU. Less than a year after the free-visa-free-ticket provision was announced for foreign jobs that drew cheers from Nepali migrant workers and rights activists, the government is making a U-turn, adding to the financial burden of thousands of migrant labourers.
Senior government officials, under “undue influence” of the recruiting agencies, are reportedly lobbying for allowing the firms to charge the first month’s salary from migrant workers in processing fees.
Multiple sources at the Ministry of Labour and Employment confirmed that senior officials have stood in favour of increasing the fee. Government lobbyists argue that the increase in service charge would bring the foreign employment business under the tax net. “Nothing has been decided yet. Talks are in progress. It will take time to reach an agreement,” said ministry Spokesperson Govinda Mani Bhurtel.
The free-visa-free-ticket system, which was introduced last July amid much fanfare, allows the recruiting agencies to charge up to Rs10,000 for their service if the employer does not bear the cost. The scheme applies to six countries in the Gulf and Malaysia.
The potential reversal of the scheme comes at a time when stakeholders were expecting its full implementation. Outgoing migrants have been paying higher price even after the rule came into effect owing to the lack of a strong mechanism to implement it.
Tek Bahadur Gurung, former labour minister who introduced the scheme, said it would be “unfortunate” if the government altered it. He claimed that the scheme was bearing fruit despite weak implementation and monitoring as more and more workers had been getting opportunities to go abroad free of cost.
“The government should not alter the provision under the influence of agencies as it is proving successful in regulating the foreign employment sector. I sincerely hope that the respected labour minister gives serious thought before making any decision,” said Gurung, who also owns a recruiting firm. He said the slight decline in job demand was natural as mostly employers complying with the rule were hiring. The agencies have long been complaining about the drop in job demand. While it may be true in case of Malaysia, countries in the Gulf have demanded more Nepali workers even after the low cost rule came into force, official statistics show.
In a meeting with government officials on Sunday, recruiting agency representatives demanded right to charge the first 45 days’ pay from the migrants, a practice prevailing in India.
“India allows the recruiting agencies there to charge 45 days’ salary or INR20,000 from migrant workers for their service. It is the cheapest service charge among South Asian and other labour sending countries such as Indonesia,” said Bal Bahadur Tamang, a taskforce member representing the recruitment agencies. The Philippines allows its agencies to charge $300 excluding the documentation cost. But Filipino workers earn almost double the Nepali migrants’ minimum wage.
Civil society members and rights groups have urged the government not to backtrack. They have threatened to go to court if their request is ignored. “The free-visa-free-ticket scheme is a form of gratitude shown by employers in the work destination to our workers. It would do great injustice to scrap the scheme as it would revive the cycle of exploitation,” said Charan Prasain, a human rights activist. He asked the government to take service charge from the employers instead.
Published: The Kathmandu Post, 04-04-2016 08:13
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