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Nepal – Overseas workers exploitation begins at home

03 October 2013

The migrant labourers' journey from Nepal to exploitation and even forced labour in Qatar usually begins with the recruiting agents at home, who promise lucrative jobs abroad but often fail to deliver, reports The Guardian.

Limited understanding of English means that workers across Nepal are often unaware of what their contracts contain when they sign them. Many migrants do not see their contract until they reach the airport, by which time most feel that is it too late to back out.

One worker, who was waiting for his contract at a departure gate, said to The Guardian: "You have to trust the brokers. I have been assured that my agent will try to get me the salary he promised, but even if that does not happen, I will still go."

One former overseas worker Ananda Kumar Rai was asked to pay NPR 110,000 (USD 1,090) for a job in Qatar, NPR 40,000 (USD 396) above the limit set by Nepal's government. He refused the offer because of his previous experiences working overseas.

Mr Rai said: "I previously worked in Saudi Arabia for three years but only earned enough to pay off my loan. I worked every day for three years, 11 hours a day. I only got a day off when I was sick. My salary was just SAR 450 (USD 120) a month."

Jay Khapung, the manager of a recruitment firm, Paradise International, accepts recruitment fees are often inflated, but said: "Without benefits the local brokers do not do any work . . . [High fees are] not acceptable, but we are compelled to charge them to cover our costs. So what shall I do?"

He also did not deny that his company's contracts could be in Arabic and English, and not Nepalese as required by local law. "We have a department whose job it is to explain to the workers their salary, their duty hours, the nature of their work and so on. They have to trust us."

According to the Guardian, there is widespread evidence of deceit and corruption at different stages of the recruitment process, but the authorities appear to be in denial.

Divas Acharya, director of the department of foreign employment in Nepal, said: "We know about these problems, and we have taken certain measures against the responsible recruitment agencies. We are trying to do more, but we are short of staff and resources."

In late August, Acharya's department became even more short-staffed after 17 of his officials were arrested for producing fake approval letters for Nepalese leaving for foreign employment.

Rameshwar Nepal, the director of Amnesty International in Nepal, said: "Nepal's Foreign Employment Act is a good law, but its implementation is almost non-existent. No action has been taken against any of the major components of the act. They are unwilling and complacent. The recruitment agents have very good links with officials and politicians."

Bal Bahadur Tamang, the president of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies, an umbrella body representing recruitment agencies, admits there are close ties between politicians and recruitment agencies, but says these are necessary.

He said: "All local agents and about 60% of recruitment agencies in Kathmandu have direct political involvement, but we need these in order to improve the recruitment process. I want to make recruitment ethical, but many recruitment agencies don't, and they are in the majority. The agencies who give out contracts at the airport are unprofessional, and as for the problems of overcharging, we are working on this."

Officials at the Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB), which is chaired by the Minister for Labour and Employment, have admitted that a fund they administer to provide welfare to migrant workers has a surplus of more than USD 18 million. The fund was established to provide compensation to the families of migrants who died abroad, and those who have been injured at work, as well as to provide migrants with awareness and skills training before they leave.

But despite the appalling exploitation of workers, the surplus has increased from about USD 7 million in 2010.

Girija Sharma, the acting director of the FEPB, said: "In the past year, we provided financial support to 726 families whose relatives have died. We have also provided extra staff to a number of embassies, and in the future we may use the money to help migrants reintegrate into society."

However, Rameshwar Nepal of Amnesty, said very few migrants know that help is available. "According to our research, 95% of migrants are completely unaware of the fund."

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