EDITORIAL: Take stern action

Manpower firms which indulge in malpractices should be appropriately punished, including the cancellation of their registration

The parliamentary International Relations and Labour Committee has done the right thing by instructing the Department of Foreign Employment to stop manpower agencies from sending security guards to foreign destinations for one month.

The instruction follows the finding that manpower agencies have been overcharging the outbound workers instead of ten thousand rupees allowed by the government per person.

More than a year ago, the government had barred the manpower agencies from taking more than that amount for sending workers to Malaysia and six Gulf countries, namely Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman, under the ‘Free Visa Free Ticket’ provision.

The instruction applies to all the processes set in motion for government’s pre-approval for sending the security guards. Manpower firms apply for such approval on the basis of the demand for workers they receive from foreign destinations.

The suspension orders come after a manpower agency named SRS Overseas Pvt. Ltd. was found to have extorted Rs. 800,000 from a worker sent to the UAE -- the money was later returned to the petitioner after the department found it out.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. The department is already flooded with such complaints from outbound workers, in most cases from those who are seeking to go there as security guards. The committee has taken this step because the government has failed to carry out the ‘Free Visa Free Ticket’ provision.

The committee has formed a sub-committee of lawmakers to investigate the matter and submit its report within a month, recommending the measures needed to check the malpractices that are rife among the manpower agencies.

The suspension is likely to affect the supply of security guards to various destinations as the manpower agencies apply for pre-approval only after they receive demand from foreign employers, and then start the selection process after they obtain such approval.

But this temporary hitch is nothing compared with the big questions that have been raised by gross violations of the laws and regulations and business ethics, systematic swindling of many workers, as well as clear indications that several manpower agencies are engaged in rampant malpractices.

Manpower agencies have already earned notoriety for overcharging and often letting down many foreign-job seekers who are reported from time to time to have been in trouble, for example harsh working conditions, non-payment of wages, mistreatment, including physical and mental torture and even sexual abuse – that is, in contrast to what had been promised by manpower agencies.

The rampant malpractices prevalent for so many years also speak volumes about how feeble the regulatory and corrective measures of the government have proved. One can only wonder at how this may have been possible without tacit support from the government officials for such illegal activities.

Manpower firms which commit such crimes should be appropriately punished, including the cancellation of their registration as in the above-mentioned case of charging Rs. 800,000.

A fine of just a couple of lakhs would not be enough to deter those who are making many millions out of such practices every year.

Fighting disease

Over the years non-communicable diseases have been increasing at an alarming level. To fight against this scourge innovative measures are called for.

This could be done by imposing higher tax on such health damaging commodities which include tobacco, alcohol and also unhealthy foods and beverages. To deal with these diseases it would help if treatment for them were made available at the primary health care level.

It is also essential to identify those at high risk of contracting such diseases, and they should find it easy to access screening and treatment.

Premature mortality could be reduced to a significant level through the implementation of policies to address the non-communicable diseases. The non-communicable diseases also take a heavy toll on the economy, and they can also be regarded as social and personal tragedies.

Nepal should also learn about addressing this concern from the Colombo Declaration in which health ministers from Southeast Asia Region had participated, including Nepal.