Sweat money: Valuable assets

While the workers’ skills should be upgraded, which will not only increase their capabilities but also their salability in the job market in future, the host countries stand to gain with a better workforce and Nepal has a lot more to look forward to

The latest development in relation to Nepali migrant workers will surely bring much to cheer about to the kin of Nepalis  working abroad. The package that the government has brought comes as relief and assurance for the community of workers abroad. The measures that are being put in place also send a very positive message that the government cares. The contribution made by the 4.5 million migrant workers through remittances accounts for a large share of the country’s economy.

Much still remains to be done through policy initiatives in order to strengthen the capabilities of the migrant work force, which will in turn enhance their sense of financial, job and physical security and at the same time lead to exponential increase in revenue for the country over a certain time period, say, maybe a decade or so.

Detractors have much to say against employment of Nepalese abroad. Firstly, they argue that employment opportunities should be created in the country in order to retain the work force as hey can directly contribute to the country’s development. For them, an economy that manifests increasing dependence on remittance will suffer not only manpower-drain but also brain-drain and in the long run the country stands to lose. Apart from this, a remittance-dependent country will be more vulnerable to the vagaries of geopolitics. Yet another argument is that the remittance sent to the home country does not stimulate growth and development because most of it is spent, not as investment, but on unproductive sectors. Some of them have also gone to the extent of saying that remittance has very little relation with the Gross Domestic Product.

Then there are also those who speak of the injustice and indignity that many migrant workers have to face during their stint overseas. Apart from this, tales of harrowing conditions in which migrant workers have had to live have also made headlines every now and them. It should also be recalled that not very long ago, in a very undiplomatic statement, an ambassador had termed a host country an ‘open jail’.

The ground reality is that the ‘migrant labor market’ and its gravitational pull on less developed countries is a global phenomenon and Nepal cannot exclude itself from this process. Ours is not an autarky, a self-sufficient economy that has nothing or very little to do with the outside world.

Nepalese have had to undergo the above-mentioned suffering as migrant workers in the host country as the government here as well as Nepal’s diplomatic missions abroad stood by helplessly as mute spectators when fellow countrymen toiled, suffered, were mistreated and very often got into trouble with the law in the host country. There simply was no mechanism in place to ensure protection and welfare of the community of Nepali workers. The government’s sole interest was to increase the quota of workers in the host country, and the diplomatic missions abroad were roused only when a serious problem involving a Nepali migrant worker surfaced.

Problems there were galore, ranging from workers finding out that they had jobs other than what was promised to them in the documents they signed to squalid working conditions and mistreatment at the hands of employers. Many Nepali workers also found themselves at the wrong end of the law without proper legal counseling or anyone to take up their cases in the court.

Many of them languished in jails awaiting deportation. A lot of them were stranded, left in the lurch because they were duped by fraudsters that operated in the guise of manpower agents back home. They had not arrived in the host country through proper channels. Therefore, their status there was illegal and that made them even more vulnerable to exploitation. Then there were Nepali workers falling ill and there were deaths too. Where would the medical expenses come from and how could these bodies be sent back home? These problems multiplied with each passing year. What could the embassies of Nepal do about this situation in the absence of a proper mechanism? These problems have remained unaddressed for a very long time. The state had failed its citizens.

Now, compensation in the event of death has increased, in fact, doubled to Rs. 7 lakh. There will be provisions for insurance and treatment expenses in case a Nepali worker falls ill. And apart from a host of other measures, Nepal’s diplomatic mission will be providing legal succor for Nepali workers who have problems with the law.

The time has also come for the Department of Foreign Employment to focus on enhancing the quality of workers. For this, the DoFE and the Council for Vocational and Technical Education should, in coordination, impart more training programs as per the job requirements of host countries. The diplomatic missions abroad must also be more engaged with the hiring companies as well as governments of host countries in organizing orientation-cum-training for the incoming Nepali migrant workers. Such an arrangement can only lead to a win-win situation for all.

While the workers’ skills will be upgraded, which will not only increase their capabilities but also their salability in the job market in future, the host countries stand to gain with a better work force and Nepal has a lot more to look forward to besides the economic gain it brings to us. Such an arrangement will prove a worthwhile investment.