Dr. Niranjan Man Singh Basnyat
Nepal’s former Ambassador to Malaysia
Foreign Employment Sector is related to the lives of 6.2 million people particularly Nepalese youth in foreign countries. Their families in Nepal entirely depend on their earnings. Thus it has become the mainstay of Nepalese economic and social life. It will continue to remain almost one-third of our income source for a long time to come, unless we would be able create jobs in a massive scale inside the country. Thus, it is imperative on the part of Government to search for better management and facilitation system in foreign employment sector so as to make the lives of these young people more dignified and hassle-free. They are striving hard to earn money in foreign countries for their families as well as for the country. This article tries to study and recommend such a mechanism for these short-term economic migrants.
First of all, let me quote the provision of Constitution of Nepal as under:
The Constitution of Nepal guarantees the secured and exploitation-free foreign employment with better management. (Article 51 (H) Sub Articles 5)
At present, it is estimated that there are about 6.2 million Nepalese workers in foreign countries except in South Asian Countries. A big youth force is outside the country earning their livelihood for themselves and their families in Nepal. The situation is very bad for the social health of the country because 40 percent of the families have a lot of family problems due to the member of the family working outside. The spouse in Nepal may elope and the children and the parents of the workers suffer a lot. In addition, there are 750 dead bodies coming in coffins on an average per year, according to the recent data published by Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE).
The minimum ceiling of Rs. 80,000/ announced by our Government in 2012 to bring one worker to Malaysia and Gulf countries was already high and many manpower companies are already charging the workers from Rs. 95, 000 to Rs. 2,00, 000.
The then Labour Minister reduced it to Rs. 10,000/ by declaring that he was giving relief to the workers. But on the contrary, workers had to pay the same amount of Rs. 95,000 to Rs. 200,000 irrespective of that ceiling. This minimum ceiling of Rs. 10,000 was not strictly implemented by the Government and the cheating by the manpower companies has continued till date. The concerned Government agencies and their officials in Nepal are not strict enough to control this practice, rather as per media reports, they are collaborating with the manpower agencies for want of extra income. This sort of practice has created difficult situation for the workers in Malaysia and Gulf countries because the workers go there by taking a personal loan. They are not in a position to even payback their loan.
It is found that Nepalese companies pay RM 2,200 to RM 4000 as commission per worker to the Malaysian agents. The minimum wage for workers declared by the Malaysian Government is Malaysian Ringgit 1100 per month. For the Security Guard, it is RM 2100 (though it is not declared by the Government). Actually the workers get low pay because the companies deduct levies from their salaries. It is understood that for the Security Guard, manpower companies are charging minimum of Rs. 1,80,000 in Nepal. There is a lot of profit margin in this business. The concerned Government agencies do not check as to how much the workers are paying. Many intermediaries in Nepal and Malaysia are taking advantage of this situation and making a huge profit.
The Government of Nepal announced FREE TICKET FREE VISA policy on 6th of July 2015. According to this policy, the manpower companies in Nepal can charge Rs. 10,000/ only for its services from the worker. Instead, it is reported in the media in Nepal that most of these companies are still charging Rs. 95,000/ to even Rs.2,00,000 as against the declared policy of the Government but the concerned agencies of the Government remain in deafening silence. All the undue profits of exceptionally high amounts are being taken by manpower agencies illegally. The consequence thereof is being faced by the Embassies.
Employment in Malaysia:
Overall assessment of the current situation:
It is estimated that there are more than 6 million foreign workers in Malaysia who are engaged in various sectors of the economy. Nepal is the second largest supplier of foreign workers to Malaysia after Indonesia. There are other fifteen source countries that supply workers to Malaysia. Nepalese citizens started coming into Malaysia for work since the beginning of the year 2001. In 2003, when the Nepali Embassy was established, the estimated number of Nepali workers was 40,000. Currently, while the Malaysian side projects the number of Nepali workers to be around 500,000, we believe it to be roughly 700,000, including the workers without Malaysian work permit. There are 30,000 to 40,000 Nepali security guards working in big supermarkets, residences of the Ministers and other important installations in Malaysia. Though the Malaysian side prefers to highlight the remittance transfer from Malaysia and does not adequately acknowledge and appreciate the contribution of foreign workers, now, it has become an established fact that Malaysia’s economic growth and industrialization cannot continue in the same pace without the involvement of foreign workers.
In the above light, labour issues concerning Nepali workers have been at the centre of the Embassy’s works since its establishment in 2003 and more so after the volume of workers started to inflate in Malaysia in the beginning of 2013. Nepali workers in Malaysia face a range of problems from the moment they initiate their journey in Nepal up to the point they depart from Malaysia. The foremost is regarding the appallingly high cost of migration to Malaysia due to the amount of money charged by the Manpower Agencies in Nepal. Thousands of unskilled Nepali workers who aspire to come here often find their dreams of making their lives better crushed, first by the fleecing Manpower agencies in Nepal, and then, upon their arrival here, by the companies with their lowly wages as opposed to the promises given to them by the agents in Nepal.
Their salaries are way lower (in average 1000 RM, which is the minimum salary fixed by the Malaysian Government since the 1st of July 2016) compared to what they have been promised back in Nepal, and also owing to the weakening of Malaysian Ringgit against the US dollar and other foreign currencies including Nepali Rupees. (from Rs. 27 to Rs. 24 for a Ringgit) in the recent time. As a consequence, more than one-third of the workers run away from their original employers for better pay and better working conditions, thereby making them ‘‘illegal’’ before Malaysian authorities.
They eventually become targets in raids run by Immigration Department and are incarcerated only to be later rescued by the Embassy. In my previous reports also, I have pointed out often that we should begin with addressing the root causes in Nepal itself if we ever wish to see decrease in the woes of Nepali workers in Malaysia. One of the remedies for such causes is stringent monitoring of the Manpower agencies in Nepal.
As the majority of the workers are exploited in this way as described above before their departure, they had to save for about eight months salary to repay their loans. They are compelled to work in whatever severe conditions in safeguarding economic wellbeing of their wives and children as well as their parents. They suffer from mental tensions and furthermore if the company in Malaysia happens to be ‘not good’, they have to return to Nepal prematurely.
The amount of loan remains as it is in Nepal. In this situation, the Embassy needs to take care of their woes and rescue them. Besides, hundreds of Nepalese workers are injured and die every year in Malaysia. In 2015 alone, a total of 461 Nepalese workers died and another 350 lost their lives in 2016 till the end of November.
The Government should monitor and take action on those manpower companies, which are overcharging workers in such a large scale. This is the root cause of sufferings of most of the Nepali workers not only in Malaysia but everywhere in the workers destination countries. This has also made the work of the Embassy more and more complex and complicated. Until now, no effort has been made by the Government particularly the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the Department of Foreign Employment to strictly control and monitor its own policy of payment of Rs. 10,000 only as service charge.
It is a fact that the Government is not serious about solving the rampant economic exploitation of poor workers before departure in Nepal itself.
The Government of Nepal has already decided to send the domestic maids to Malaysia and other countries. Though it has not been implemented yet. The Government should not have made such decision without consulting the concerned Embassy. The Embassy cannot cope with the work with the present staff strength as it generates overwhelming problems, both legal and humanitarian in nature. Cambodia recently stopped sending domestic maids to Malaysia in view of the tortures inflicted on them by the employers and incidences of sexual harassments. In view of such a situation, the Government of Nepal needs to review its decision on this matter.
As regards the Bilateral Labour Agreement on the employment of workers in Malaysia, it could not be signed due to Malaysian side proposing a lot of terms and conditions, which are detrimental to the interests of Nepalese workers.
Both sides have held several discussions at different times but a common draft could not be reached which may be beneficial to both for a long time. In this regard, Nepalese draft proposal that was formulated after extensive discussions among all stakeholders of Nepal, which contains various corrective measures in the protection of workers in Malaysia such as a twenty-four hours insurance policy, provision of better medical services and better hostel facilities, payment of salary and overtime work on time, removing delay in the payment of compensation on injury and death etc., was submitted to the Government of Malaysia for consideration.
The process of negotiation is still continuing, although Agreement has been already signed. There are still some irritants between the two parties regarding facilities to accord to the Nepalese workers.
Conditions in Malaysia:
It is estimated that there are more than 6 million foreign workers in Malaysia who are engaged in various sectors of the economy. Nepal is the second largest supplier of foreign workers to Malaysia after Indonesia. There are other fifteen source countries that supply workers to Malaysia. Nepalese citizens started coming into Malaysia for work since the beginning of the year 2001. In 2003, when the Nepali Embassy was established, the estimated number of Nepali workers was 40,000. Now it is estimated to be 7,00,000.
There are 30,000 to 40,000 Nepali security guards working in big supermarkets, residences of the Ministers and other important installations in Malaysia. We must not forget that foreign workers’ contribution to the economic growth of Malaysia is crucial and important. Now, it has become an established fact that Malaysia’s economic growth and industrialization cannot continue without the involvement of foreign workers.
Two major ILO Conventions are not in force in Malaysia namely ‘Abolition of Forced Labour Convention 1957’ and ‘Minimum Wages Fixing Convention 1970’.
Some positive steps taken by the Embassy of Nepal in Kuala Lumpur:
The following positive steps have been taken by the Embassy of Nepal to mitigate the problems faced by the Nepali workers in Malaysia:
# A 24-hour Hotline Telephone service for the workers has been installed. Workers can always call the Embassy if there is any emergency to them.
# A Malaysian law firm has been contracted in March 2016 for one year for the legal service for the workers. This law firm visits jails and detention camps periodically to find out the workers in problem and provides its services to rescue them from their difficulties. This is now only program run by the budget provided by the FEPB. This service needs to be continued and extended for another one year from March 2017.
# A FM Radio Service in Nepali language for the workers with one-hour program every Sunday evening in Bernama Radio was restarted in October which was discontinued for one and half months. It was first started since April this year to disseminate information and provide entertainment to the workers.
# A booklet in Nepali language was published with the financial assistance of Malaysian Telcom Company DiGi containing various information useful to the workers.
# The Embassy has started its own Facebook since October 2016 in view of faster # communication with the workers.
# 1020 workers, who were undocumented, were rescued by the Embassy and sent back to Nepal from December 2014 to February 2018.
# Text courtesy: The Author Ambassador N. Basnyat.
Our email address is: [email protected]