Airlines take a hit in free visa and ticket row


Airlines companies have been hit hard due to manpower agencies protesting against the recently implemented free visa and ticket rule to seven major labour destination countries. With less workers leaving for foreign jobs, air ticket bookings have dwindled by over 50 per cent since the new rule came into effect.

The new provision implemented by the government on July 6 would greatly lessen the financial burden of aspirants eyeing jobs in the seven selected countries. However, the decision has drawn the ire of manpower agencies who claim the rule would have adverse impact on foreign employment sector. The new decision of the government restricts collection of more than Rs 10,000 as service fee per worker and that too only if the employers refuse to pay the commission to Nepali manpower agencies.

Before the implementation of free visa and ticket provision to seven countries — Malaysia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman — manpower firms were permitted to charge Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 per worker, depending on the destination.

The airlines operators have said that even though the decision was in favour of workers, the controversy and protests by manpower agencies have been affecting their business.

Many airlines operating service to and from Kathmandu focusing migrant workers’ destinations had already been receiving comparatively less demand after the earthquake in April.

Outbound Nepali workers are one of the major sources of income for international airlines companies flying to Nepal. The airlines need at least 60 to 70 per cent occupancy to cover their operating cost, according to representatives of airlines companies.

TIA Labour Desk officials said that the number of Nepalis leaving for jobs abroad has declined significantly over last one week due to protest by manpower agencies.

“Till a week ago, there used to be 120 to 140 passengers in a flight and now the number has come down to 70 to 80,” said Bharat Kumar Shrestha, president of Airlines Operators Committee, Nepal. He is also airport manager of Oman Air that operates Kathmandu-Doha, Abu Dhabi and Dubai via Muscat. As per Shrestha, the government should have consulted with all stakeholders before implementing the new rule.

Under the new provision, Nepali manpower agencies are not allowed to send workers to seven countries if they do not provide facility of free visa and air ticket to workers. Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies has demanded that the government either roll back its decision or put it on hold for some time to conduct a study regarding the provision and its implications.

Though the manpower agencies criticise the new provision, foreign employment aspirants have welcomed the decision stating it to be pro-workers.

“Free visa and ticket provision should have been implemented long time ago as it benefits workers,” said Ganesh Gurung, foreign employment expert. He also said that as foreign employment and remittance were not the long-term solution, schemes have been unveiled that assure jobs for at least one to three years to retain workers within the country. “It is equally important to promote entrepreneurship among returnee migrant workers based on their skills.”

As a part of the protest, manpower agencies have stopped bringing fresh demand and applying for approval from the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) to send workers. In the last one week, DoFE issued final approval for 658 workers who were in process of leaving the country before the government implemented the new rule.

Earlier, DoFE had been issuing final approval for 1,000 workers per day on an average. However, this number too was below average issuance of 1,500 a day before the April 25 earthquake.

Air Arabia and Fly Dubai have already slashed the number of flights due to low flow of outbound workers. “We cut one flight on Sunday and Monday as occupancy was low,” said Niraj Sharma, airport manager of Fly Dubai. On normal days, the carrier had been operating three flights.

Nepal Airlines Corporation, Malaysia Airlines, Etihad and Qatar Airways are some other carriers that have been affected.