Surviving with Self-Respect
Although successive governments in Nepal have been boastful of their achievements in tackling unemployment to a larger extent through foreign employment, it is hardly sustainable given the fact that the demand for our workers in foreign lands depends on how our competitors in the job market perform to satisfy their employers. The latest situation of employment in Kuwait for the Nepalese workers and particularly the housemaids reveals this fact, where our female employees are privileged to be offered more housekeeping opportunities due to temporary restrictions placed by the Kuwaiti authorities on those from Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Foreign employment has been on the rise after the then government in the 1990s decided to open the Gulf countries to seek jobs for its citizens. In the beginning our employees used to be predominantly males as then the women did not venture for outside employment with a few exceptions. Furthermore, Nepal government was also found hesitant to permit female workers to look for employment in the Gulf countries, where comparatively people are more conservative.
Later on the government showed flexibility with regards to employment for the Nepali women both because it felt pressure of growing unemployment at home and also the women organizations lobbied vigorously for giving equal opportunities to the women without whose partnership the society cannot move forward. Viewed from this lens the decision by the government to loosen restrictions on female workers to go abroad for jobs looks prudent but the story does not end here.
Despite the fact that our female job seekers have been working in countries like Malaysia and lately in South Korea in quite a good number, their concentration is certainly in the six Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries where more housemaids are on an increasing demand for the last few years. This council comprises Saudia Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain. Among these the largest concentration of Nepali workers is in Saudia Arabia followed by Qatar and rest of the GCC members.
In the mid 2000s we have witnessed the steady flow of female workers to Israel where the demand is for caregivers besides the housemaids. When opportunities for such jobs were noticed our so-called manpower agents started to persuade the Nepali female job seekers to go to Israel even though no formal government channel was available to manage the employment-related problems. Consequently, there was the problem of our female workers being harassed due to loss of jobs and also employed illegally. With more such instances of illegal employment which naturally victimizes the poor and vulnerable workers increasing, the government of Israel persuaded the government of Nepal to open an embassy in Tel Aviv so that the grievances of Nepali workers in the country could be handled more efficiently and humanely.
Responding to this persuasion of a friendly country which has a developed economy and where more old aged persons require care and attention and taking note of the possibility of having our less educated work force employed with attractive remuneration, the government of Nepal hastily took a decision to operate an embassy at the level of CDA (Charge d Affaires). However, the Nepal embassy in Israel is now headed by a full-fledged ambassador. Then it was justified considering that the presence of a diplomatic mission would facilitate the employment for our workers and the governments of Israel and Nepal would enter into a relevant agreement to better manage the problems related to the jobs.
The recent history on this issue attests the fact that our employment problems in Israel have remained as they were seen in the beginning with no conclusion of an agreement supposed to be a panacea in this regard. Our oft-quoted labor diplomacy and recruitment of labor attaches for whose assignment the government ministers are found lobbying hard have proved less effectual than expected. Where lies the remedy to this pathetic scenario no one seems to be in the knowledge.
The two concerned government ministries are complacent one rejoicing at the appointment of labor attaches and another being privileged to select the diplomatic envoys. In a country whose diplomatic envoy enjoys vacationing in the New Years Eve with his family members and reports back to his office only after being instructed to shorten his pleasure trip even knowing the fact his country’s senior defense official is sent to judicial custody by the host country police on charges of serious human rights violation, what more can the people of Nepal expect.
Our problems in this front have been encountered in a number of foreign employment destinations including Malaysia and South Korea though the latter has approved Nepal as one of the countries that are covered under the Employment Permit Service (EPS).
No more serious is the situation as in Kuwait with the staggeringly rising number of our victimized female workers, which the latest report in Kantipur suggests. Kuwait is the country where one of our female workers has been awarded capital punishment and all our diplomatic endeavors to get her early release have not borne fruit. This scribe vividly remembers the pains she had to undergo when she was given the death penalty by the Kuwaiti court a few years back and also the investment made the government and the organization like the Non-Resident Nepalese in raising a fund to pay as a blood money to the relatives of the Filipino, who was allegedly murdered by the Nepali worker. Had this blood money not been paid the Kuwaiti government would have probably executed the court order of death sentence.
For the sake of employment in the foreign countries our citizens have been agonizing. Their genuine demands for fair pay and other facilities are seldom attended to. Our limited capacities at the missions with no home-based diplomat having local language skills and constrained resources, which are not in tune with what the situation on the ground like a difficult destination as Kuwait requires, will always put our workers at constant risk. The remittances flowing from labor destinations may have its role in supporting our economy temporarily, but it can never substitute domestic employment. Transient solution to unemployment should not become our policy, rather the government should refocus on exploring possibilities, that provide jobs domestically. Only then we can survive with self respect.
(Thapa was former foreign relations advisor to the Prime Minister in 2008-09. His most recent book is “Diplomacy in the Changing World”. Email: email@example.com)
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