Tuesday, 7 February, 2023
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OPINION

Rights Of Migrant Workers



Hira Bahadur Thapa

As globalisation gathers pace, the movement of people from one country to another for employment opportunities goes up. Today's world is much more interdependent because no nation prospers by limiting the prospects of mobility. People move for individual needs, but simultaneously they bring benefits to their countries of origin as well as destination.
For centuries, there has been movement of population from country to country and region to region. This scenario has changed markedly with the rapid development of modern technology. Unlike in the past, with easier transportation, they can travel thousands of miles within a short period of time.
Unsurprisingly, our needs and challenges have too changed. The number of migrant workers has soared considerably. As per the data of UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, in 2017, 164 million migrant workers moved worldwide. In Asia alone, about 2.5 million such workers leave for Europe, the United States of America and the Middle East.
With increasing number of migrant workers, their problems concerning foreign employment have multiplied. There are reports of their low payment or non-payment of wages, discrimination, and exploitation of various kinds. Additionally, women workers are vulnerable to sexual harassment and sometimes they have been sexually enslaved.
As a labour supply country, Nepal has faced several challenges and taken various steps to redress them accordingly. Nepal's present economy has become vibrant due to remittances earned from our migrant workers. The country has signed bilateral labour agreements with many countries. Though such agreements help address the problems associated with foreign employment, sometimes they are not sufficient to fully cope with the new challenges.
Hence, international efforts to meet such challenges are essential. In this regard, the 1990 International Convention on Protection of Rights of all Migrant Workers and Member of Their Families has been a milestone achievement. It deals with migrant workers' rights. International agreements impose moral obligations on member countries and thus help safeguard the rights of the migrant workers.
More importantly, Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) negotiated among nations for years and which finally was concluded last year is another latest initiative to holistically address the issues surrounding migration in general and migrant workers, in particular. GCM’s approval by the current session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York has added momentum1 to this global endeavour.
Nepal has taken several measures to ensure that rights of the migrant workers are guaranteed and well- protected. As a member of UN Human Rights Council and signatory to many human rights conventions, the country is aware of her responsibilities towards safeguarding the rights of the migrant workers. Migrant workers’ issue of rights begins with their recruitment process and in this connection her introduction and enforcement of visa-free arrangement for the Nepalese workers is a significant step.
Furthermore, the recent convening of a Conference on Protection of Rights of the Migrant Workers in Kathmandu is a commendable endeavour of Nepal, which has highlighted the problems faced by migrant workers in terms of their rights along with recommendations for both countries of origin and destination to implement them for the welfare of the millions of workers worldwide.
The above conference has dwelt upon various problems related to migrant workers. From the beginning of the recruitment process the workers are forced to face problems against the background of chaotic intermediation, fraudulent recruitment process, and exorbitant high fees of both government and private sector. Such problems are better sorted out with proper intervention not only from the sending countries but also from those who employ them.
The Kathmandu Declaration issued at the end of the above conference deals with a variety of challenges faced by migrant workers in general and Nepali workers in particular. Among labour supplying countries, Nepal has taken some bold steps to reprieve the workers from exploitation at the hands of recruiters.
In 2015, Nepal introduced “Free Visa, Free Ticket Policy". The sole purpose of which is to lessen the financial burden imposed on the workers while being recruited by foreign employers. There are millions of Nepali migrant workers currently employed in Malaysia and most of the Arab countries. During recruitment they are cheated by middlemen who work on behalf of the foreign employers.
Such cheating is in various forms. The workers are charged high fees in the name of air travel and visa fees. Some companies in countries like Malaysia were found charging them levy which they are supposed to pay their government. At the time of payment, workers were paid by deducting a certain amount of money as levy which led to low payment. Under payment, late payment and denying basic services to the workers have been some of the most prevalent problems of migrant workers.
There are instances to prove that Nepal’s migrant worker-friendly policy has not been fully implemented. Gaps are visible between what the government policy says in principle and the actual ground reality. That is why National Human Rights Commission of Nepal took the sincere initiative of organising an international conference inviting human rights-related organisations and representatives of governments, UN agencies like International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and International Labour Organisation (ILO), which focused on the rights of the migrant workers.
Challenges related to migration of labour are not confined to the policies of source countries only though some of them have to be sorted out by them before the migrant workers leave for destination countries. Some of them like giving the workers detailed information about the work conditions and benefits of employment including the salary are supply countries' responsibilities but implementing the conditions of labour contract by the recruitment companies and corporate agencies fall on the destination countries.
Therefore, both countries of origin and destination have their obligations as per the international conventions which they should adhere to. Labour agreements need to be signed conforming to the principles of Global Compact on Migration and equally implemented by them.