Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nepal: Managing foreign employment

Photo by: KarlMarx

An opinion piece written in local Nepalese online news site My Republic offers this opinion from the Nepalese Ministry of Labour on how to deal with the situation of Nepalese migrant workers going abroad:

Original link to article: Managing foreign employment


Contribution of remittance to Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product is estimated to be about 20 percent, meaning it is greater than the combined amount of foreign loan/grants and foreign direct investment. Remittance has singularly helped to bring down the level of poverty in the country. The Nepal Living Standard Survey 2003 has also substantiated its increasing contribution in the overall poverty reduction of the country from 42 to 31 percent.

The major question with remittances coming from Nepali migrant workers is whether it is sustainable or not. Foreign employment is mostly determined by internal demand of the destination countries where Nepali policymakers do not have any control. Recent economic meltdown also exposed its vulnerability. Fortunately, Nepali migrant workers did not suffer as much as it was estimated earlier but the danger is always there. Too much dependency on foreign employment without commensurate efforts to generate additional employment opportunities in the internal labor market is always a threat to the national economy.

Each year, almost half of the new entrants in the Nepali labor market go to foreign countries seeking better employment opportunities. It is pathetic to note that most of them land up in an even worse condition in foreign soils. The increasing number of complaints at the Nepali embassies abroad and the increase of organizations concerning protection of migrant workers in Nepal show the mismanagement prevalent in this sector. Till date, the government of Nepal continues to be a passive onlooker. Its initiatives lack the vigor, determination and enthusiasm of other major labor sending countries such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

It seems that successive governments have always been in a dilemma whether to promote foreign employment or better utilize the manpower for the nation-building process. It is better to learn as quickly as possible that remittance from abroad does not make a nation. If it had been the case, the Philippines would have by now been one of the highly-developed countries of the world.

However, given the poor socioeconomic scenario of the country, foreign employment, apart from foreign assistance, has turned out to be another necessary evil, at least for the time being. Hence, it should be treated as a stopgap arrangement until we are in a position to utilize human resources for our own needs. At the same time, additional efforts are needed to make current workers more productive and reduce our increasing dependency on foreign employment.

Too much dependency on foreign employment without commensurate efforts to generate additional employment opportunities in the internal labor market is always a threat to the national economy.
Value addition to the Nepali migrant workers along with better coordination among the major stakeholders is among the primary requirements for safe, dignified and reliable foreign employment. The existing Labor Desk at the International Airport is an example of poor coordination among the major stakeholders.

It is ironical to note that though the foreign employment sector has been contributing immensely to the national economy, the sector is not getting its due from the national budget. The miserable state of the Ministry of Labor and Transport Management in terms of physical, financial, human and information resources clearly shows the misplaced priority of the government. Moreover, the present structure of the ministry where two heterogeneous functions (foreign employment and transport) have been combined needs to be revisited for specialization and better results.

So far, the Government of Nepal has signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with four major labor destination countries: Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and the Republic of Korea. However, these are very few considering that institutionally 107 countries are open for Nepali migrant workers. Signing MoU with other major labor destination countries such as Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kuwait and Israel is a daunting task for the government. But just signing MoU is not sufficient; persistent follow-up is required, which is seriously amiss right now.

It is believed that the appointment of labor attaché helps in creating a conducive environment in labor diplomacy. However, until now they have been unable to rise above regular functions and show their presence in an effective manner. For instance, frequent closure of the Israeli labor market, which is among the most lucrative destinations for Nepali female migrant workers, aptly sums Nepal’s attitude and caliber in managing foreign employment.

An effective and a meaningful presence of the state for optimum management of foreign employment is a must. Simply elucidating the statistics of foreign employment and gloating over its immense contribution to the national economy will not serve the purpose. We have had enough self-congratulatory seminars, workshops, foreign visits and meetings. Now, it is the time to act and act with purpose. Otherwise, we will once again be left behind to rue over lost opportunities.

(Writer is with Ministry of Labor and Transport Management.)

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