Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, February 28

Global financial crisis has hit the construction sector in Qatar — a country that has been the most favoured destination of Nepali migrant workers — forcing the sector to halt new recruitment.

Though Nepal’s ambassador

to Qatar Surya Nath Mishra

said Qatar has approved 1,12,000 new visas for Nepalis, data from the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) tells a different and stark story.

According to the department, only 6,413 Nepalis left for Qatar in the seventh month — from mid-January to mid-February — of this fiscal year. In 2008, an average of 3,647 Nepalis left for Qatar and the trend is decreasing in 2009 despite the envoy’s assurance that recession will only hit Qatar next year in 2010. Around 95 per cent of the Nepalis employed in Qatar work in the construction sector there, according to the envoy.

Major construction companies in Qatar have halted new projects and that is hitting all Nepali workers directly. In the first seven months of this fiscal year, Qatar absorbed a total of 46,202 Nepali migrant labourers. The number is down from 47,509 during the corresponding period last year.

Qatar presently employs some 2,86,511 Nepali employees, according to official data. It is one

of the countries with which

Nepal has entered into a bilateral labour agreement. According to the pact, officials from two countries will meet every two years. “The meeting between the officials could help to clarify the confusion,” the envoy added.

The bilateral labour accord between Nepal and Qatar came into force from January 20, 2008, ensuring better pay and perks for Nepali workers though the two countries had signed the labour pact in 2005. The then Labour Minister Ramesh Lekhak and his Qatari counterpart Dr Sultan bin Hassan Al Dhabit Al Dousari had last January signed an addendum protocol — to formally implement the labour pact inked some two years ago — in Qatar’s capital Doha. According to the protocol, Nepali workers would get paid at par with other overseas employees at around 800 riyals. The initial cost for Nepalis to get employment in Qatar also went down by 50 per cent.

Nepal and Qatar signed the bilateral labour pact on March 21, 2005. The pact — signed by the then foreign minister Ramesh Nath Panday — remained inactive because neither side took any initiative to bring it into practice until 2008. After the pact came into effect, Nepalis were expected to get remuneration and facilities as specified by the labour law of Qatar. The accord ensured Nepali migrant workers’ legal status in accordance with other migrant workers’ countries with whom Qatar has signed labour pacts.

Qatar emerged as the most popular destination for most of the unskilled and manual works in construction works. A small number of Nepalis is also working in the service sector like petrol pumps, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. “One per cent of Nepalis work in the technical sector, 0.5 per cent in service sector, 0.3 per cent in the health sector and 0.2 per cent are self-employed,” said Mishra.

Qatar had overtaken Malaysia as the most popular destination for Nepali jobseekers.