A draft bill on the Foreign Employment Act, although scheduled to have been completed last October, has been prepared by the Ministry of Labour and Transport Management. The legislation was promised by the finance minister during the presentation of the budget estimates last year, when he argued that the legislation as it existed today was control-oriented rather than promotional. Overseas employment has traditionally been one of the main sources of employment, and a growing number of Nepalis find it attractive. It is estimated that the size of the remittances nearly matches that of the national budget. Since there has been a sea change in the global labour market trends, the need for a correct and focused reform in the legislation to address some of the key issues cannot be overstated.
Manpower agencies play a central role in mediating between aspiring Nepali workers and prospective employers abroad. Although they work for a fee, often exorbitant, not all of these agencies have lived up to the expectation of those who cough up huge sums of money as fees. The story goes beyond the agencies, right up to the workplace. Workers have been swindled by employers and they have been forced to work under dismal conditions, often for lesser wages than promised. The government policy so far has been unfriendly, except in public pronouncements. Not surprisingly, concerned government officials and some manpower agencies are hand-in-glove in making fast bucks at the cost of Nepalis seeking jobs overseas. This is one of the several reasons why the government must do all it can to make the legislation friendly to the people who want to go overseas for employment instead of seeking rent just because they get paid better than at home.
Since a majority of Nepalis go for menial jobs, there should be both a well-thought-out strategy for providing them vocational training opportunities so that they qualify for semi-skilled jobs and get better pay. The courses offered at the Centre for Technical and Vocational Training are largely irrelevant to the labour market realities. Contract negotiations with overseas employers should ensure Nepalis get paid as much as an Indian or a Sri Lankan for the same job. Women are discriminated against, which must stop by providing them a better deal in terms of security. It is also important to include time-bound service procedural measures besides establishing bilateral employment agreements with countries where Nepalis are employed in large numbers. Bilateral employment pacts would no doubt eliminate the type of harassment 45 Nepalis faced at Kuala Lumpur when their employer failed to turn up last February.