EDITORIAL: Whither protection?

Despite legislation and policies, migrant workers lack protection and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse

Every day around 1,500 Nepali men and women leave the country for employment in various countries, particularly Malaysia and Gulf nations. In the last one decade, according to government data, over 3 million labour permits were issued by the Department of Foreign Employment. Remittances contribute nearly 31 per cent to the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP); hence the money sent by Nepali migrant workers has become the backbone of the country’s economy.  In 2015, Nepal topped the list of remittance recipient countries in Asia and the Pacific as a proportion of the GDP. These are some telling figures when we talk about migrant workers and foreign employment. But behind every migrant worker, there is a tragic tale, which either goes unnoticed or on most occasions is ignored. Despite foreign employment keeping the country’s economy afloat, migrant workers still lack protection and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

It is not that nothing has been done to protect migrant workers and their rights. Nepal introduced Foreign Employment Act in 2007 with an aim to make foreign employment business safe, managed and decent and, protect the rights and interests of the workers who go for foreign employment and the foreign employment entrepreneurs. Similarly, after widespread complaints that Nepalis going abroad for work were hugely exploited and cheated by recruitment agencies, the government in June 2015 introduced a scheme called “free visa, free ticket”. But despite legislation and policies, poor implementation and enforcement has failed to ensure protection of the rights of citizens migrating to work abroad. A parliamentary panel last year, in its report, submitted to then Parliament had said that the “free visa, free ticket” scheme was limited to papers only, as migrant workers were paying as much as Rs 90,000, while going by the rule the amount should not have exceeded Rs 10,000.

Similarly, reports keep coming from the countries where Nepali migrants are working that they face various forms of abuse including non-payment for a longer period of time, working in slave-like situation, squalid living conditions and less pay than what is promised while signing the contract. Reports of deaths of Nepali migrant workers in destination countries keep coming almost every day, while families often run from pillar to post to ensure safe return of their family members stranded in foreign land. And there are women migrant workers who are more exposed to abuse and exploitation. These are serious issues which the government and its agencies should immediately address in coordination with their counterparts. The employment rate in Nepal is somewhere near 40 per cent, which means majority of youths in the country are left with no option than to fly abroad in search of jobs. It’s the state’s responsibility to protect its citizens wherever they are. There is a need to identify reasons why people migrate and create more income-generating opportunities. The government and its missions in work destination countries need to take the complaints of abuse of migrant workers seriously and act swiftly to address them. Migrant workers have been making a huge contribution to the country’s economy, and they rightly deserve protection from the state.

New standards

Brick kilns are the major source of air pollution that causes adverse impact on health, local environment and population and the workers involved in the industry. There are a total of 110 brick kilns in the Kathmandu Valley. Over 9,000 workers are employed in the industry. Considering the seriousness of the deteriorating air pollution in the Valley, the Ministry of Population and Environment has issued an Emission Standards and Stack Height for Brick Industry.

As per the new standards, the maximum limit of suspended particulate matter and the minimum limit of the height of stack of brick kilns vary depending on their types. The maximum limit of SPM and minimum height of stack for bull’s trench kiln/forced draft (fixed chimney) is 350mg/Nm3 and 17 metre, respectively. It shall be 500mg/Nm3 and 30 metre for bull’s trench kiln/natural draft (fixed chimney); 350mg/Nm3 and 17 metre for Hoffman kiln (forced draft). However, one of the best ways to improve air quality in line with WHO standard is to find an alternative to fired bricks. The brick kilns factories should be relocated away from heavily populated areas.