‘Nepalis can bag 500,000 jobs if they can outcompete foreigners’

Nepal faces a unique problem. On the one hand, agriculture and construction sectors are facing shortage of workers, while on the other hundreds of youths are leaving the country everyday seeking jobs citing lack of employment opportunities at home. Against this backdrop, the government has launched its flagship Prime Minister Employment Programme. The programme aims to create a link between jobless people and employers to guarantee jobs for jobless people for at least 100 days every year. If jobless people fail to secure a job, the government has promised to give them cash benefit equivalent to 50 per cent of the minimum wage. However, jobless people will have to meet certain criteria to become eligible for unemployment cash benefit. One of the eligibility criteria is that the person should have remained jobless for at least 100 days. Also, none of the family members of the unemployed person should have been employed for a year. Umesh Poudel of The Himalayan Times met Labour Secretary Mahesh Prasad Dahal to know more about the employment programme. Excerpts:

The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security has just unveiled ambitious PM Employment Programme. How does it function?

The programme was launched as per the announcement made through the budget of this fiscal year. The programme, unveiled by Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on February 13, aims to protect people’s right to employment. As of now, we have almost completed selecting 753 employment coordinators at the local level to execute the programme. The coordinator will collect unemployment data and upload them to the employment management information system (EMIS) as early as March 15. The coordinators will be recruited at the employment service centres, which we are planning to establish within a month at the local level. The government will also sign memorandums of understanding with local governments to ensure timely result. Provincial governments will work with local governments to ensure smooth implementation of the programme.

The government has said that it will provide cash benefits to those who cannot find jobs for a minimum of 100 days per year. How much is the government planning to spend for this purpose?

We have not done that calculation. I’d like to clarify that the programme is basically aimed at generating employment opportunities and preserving people’s constitutional right to employment. So, we are more focused on creating a link between employers and jobless people.

However, we’ll have to provide cash benefits if people fail to find jobs for a minimum of 100 days a year. Unemployed people will only be entitled to cash benefits if their family members have not migrated abroad for employment purpose; if family members are not employed or engaged in businesses; or if family members are not beneficiaries of social security programmes launched by the government.

So, we believe very few will qualify for unemployment cash benefits.

Can the government find jobs for the jobless?

The employment management information system will create a list of unemployed people as well as areas where jobs are available within this fiscal year.

One of the areas where unemployed people can find jobs is public construction.

Other probable employers are government projects, community organisations, international and domestic non-governmental organisations and cooperatives. We will issue cards to unemployed people so that the government can find jobs for them.

The government has said that the programme was launched to reduce labour flight and generate jobs in the country. But 100 days of job will not be enough for people to earn a livelihood. Jobs should be guaranteed for 12 months a year, isn’t it?

There are cultural factors behind people remaining out of work. Many youths in Nepal refer to some of the jobs available here as menial but perform those works abroad. The government is thus planning to launch a national campaign to encourage people to respect all types of work. We are aware that some of the jobs that can employ large number of people here are seasonal. For example, the agricultural sector generally recruits people only from June-July to November-December. But after the harvesting season is over, construction sector starts hiring people. We have to identify these seasonal jobs so that people can switch work on time to remain employed for a longer period. We will identify these seasonal jobs and assign them to unemployed people. If the unemployed fail to attend the jobs assigned to them, they will not be eligible for unemployment cash benefit. Some of the areas where the unemployed people can be recruited are: agriculture, cooperatives, livestock, energy, irrigation, drinking water and sanitation, forest and environment, tourism, roads and transportation, education, post-earthquake reconstruction, community infrastructure, national pride projects, information and telecommunication, industry and health. The government will organise orientation programme for those seeking jobs. The government will also give the unemployed an option on whether they want to be self-employed or take up jobs assigned by the government.

The programme also aims to train unemployed people in collaboration with the private sector and local governments. What kind of training will the unemployed have to undergo?

The government will establish vocational schools at local levels, where unemployed people will undergo training. The Ministry of Education has already initiated the process of establishing these schools. The schools will come into operation by next fiscal year. We have already established three national-level training centres in Ithari, Lalitpur and Butwal. The Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT) also operates vocational schools across the country.

Also, many polytechnic institutes are being operated by the private sector. All these schools and institutes will provide training as per the demand made by the government. Most of the electricians, plumbers, masons and carpenters in the country are foreigners. We can create as many as 500,000 jobs for Nepalis in these sectors if our youths can outcompete foreign rivals.

The PM Employment Programme focuses on generating employment opportunities for low- and semi-skilled workers. Why isn’t there focus on creating job opportunities for high-skilled workers as well?

We have just launched the programme; and in the first phase we are focusing on finding jobs for low- and semiskilled workers, especially high school dropouts and those with high-school degrees. However, our technical team will also identify jobs for high-skilled workers in sectors such as tourism and information technology, including software development.