Chandan Kumar Mandal
Nepali workers going abroad to work should not be paying for their flight tickets and other related recruitment costs, according to the government’s own policy. But the agreement with Israel on Wednesday to send 500 nurses contravenes this policy as well as Nepal’s international commitments.
The agreement has opened the door for Nepali nurses to work in Israel’s hospitals, nursing homes, daycare centres in the near future and others in agriculture, hospitality and construction sectors later.
But according to labour migration experts, the provision of making workers pay for Israeli jobs goes against Nepal government’s policy, securing zero cost jobs for Nepali migrant workers and implementing Employers Pay Model, as per which employers pay all fees and related costs on behalf of the workers.
“The new deal, as reported, will make workers pay for jobs, goes against Nepal government’s own policy,” said Rameshwar Nepal, labour migration researcher told the Post. “There is already a Free Visa: Free Ticket policy of the government in place, making employers provide tickets and pay for visas with lower recruitment fees. The government should have gone for the Employers Pay Model. But this is a step backwards.”
Labour migration to Israel will take place under the government-to-government (G2G) modality, which means there will be no presence of private recruiting agencies. Government agencies will oversee the whole management of migration to Israel.
The Department of Foreign Employment will be responsible for the whole process of hiring the nurses and sending them to Israel, according to Kumar Dahal, the department’s director-general.
The total cost for each worker to reach Israel after paying for the air ticket, medical examination, insurance, and contribution to the Foreign Employee Welfare Fund will not cross Rs 100,000, he said.
But the zero costs jobs is not only Nepal’s policy, there are also international obligations and principles for promoting zero costs jobs and freeing migrant workers from the burden of hefty recruitment fees and other related costs, argue labour migration experts.
The general principles and operational guidelines for fair recruitment of the International Labour Organisation say no recruitment fees or related costs, including airfare, should be charged to, or otherwise borne by, workers or job seekers and governments should take measures to eliminate the charging of recruitment fees and related costs to workers.
“There have been overwhelming international campaigns to relieve workers from hefty recruitment fees, make employers pay for all the costs and fees in order to save migrants from heavy debt bondage,” said Nepal. “Our free visa and free ticket policy, irrespective of its poor implementation, has been in place for five years now. But we are once again making workers pay for the jobs.”
Despite the policy being in place it has not always been implemented as workers are paying different fees for jobs abroad that they are not supposed to be paying for.
The Labour Migration Report, 2020 of the Labour Ministry also mentions how the government has strongly prioritised employers’ paying model, advancing fair recruitment practices to ensure that workers do not have to bear any costs and fees associated with their recruitment process.
Nepal is also a signatory of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, commonly known as GCM, the first inter-governmentally negotiated agreement, which was formally adopted by 164 countries for protecting migrant workers.
The compact facilitates fair and ethical recruitment and safeguards conditions that ensure decent work and prohibits recruiters and employers from charging or shifting recruitment fees or related costs to migrant workers in order to prevent debt bondage.
But Dahal, the director general, defended the agreement with Israel saying that this is how the government to government deal works.
“We have followed the South Korean model and replicated it. This is how the G2G model works,” he said.
Nepal has been sending workers to South Korea under the government to government model with workers spending Rs 85,000 on airfare, medical tests and insurance expenses.
The commitment was reflected in signing new pacts or updating existing agreements where workers were relieved from any recruitment fees and other related costs. Nepal’s landmark labour agreement with Malaysia, which also promised free jobs for Nepali workers, also comes up with provisions of reimbursing workers investments over several heads.
Many gloves manufacturing companies in Malaysia have started reimbursing recruitment fees and other related costs to workers, including Nepali, to comply with zero-cost jobs policies and meet the international benchmarks to avoid sanctions.
Likewise, the revision of labour agreements with the United Arab of Emirates, Oman and Qatar and signing of new deals with Jordan, Mauritius and Japan also signalled that the government policy was only zero cost jobs or the ‘employer pays’ model, under which the employer is responsible for all the fees and costs of hiring.
All these agreements had one thing in common: Nepali workers will not have to bear any financial burdens—whether cost or any fees.
“But if workers are made to pay for jobs, then it not only contradicts with the government policies but also proves there is no uniformity,” said Baniya, of the Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility.
Nepal currently has signed labour agreements with nine countries—Qatar, the United Arab of Emirates, Bahrain, Japan, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Malaysia and Mauritius.
But the kind of agreements are different, according to Dahal.
“All the labour deals with Gulf countries and Malaysia are business-to-business modality. The Israel agreement will follow the G2G modality,” said Dahal.
However, labour migration experts disagree.
“The South Korea model is often taken as a reference whenever talking about the G2G modality. However, when Nepal and South Korea signed the deal [in 2007], there was not much discussion about the employers’ pay model,” said Nepal. “Making workers pay even under the G2G model could have been corrected now.”
This to an extent is what has been done in the case of Israel.
However, when the Post tried reaching out to at least two Labour Ministry officials, they did not agree to disclose details of the labour agreement with Israel nor did they agree to speak on why workers were being made to pay despite the government following zero cost jobs.
Nepali workers’ migration to Israel was stopped in 2009 following rampant exploitation of Nepali workers with recruiting agencies charging hefty fees for caregiver jobs in Israel. Nepal had recognised Israel as a labour destination in 2003.
Following such exploitation both countries had agreed to send workers only through the government to government model in future.
In 2015, recruitment resumed once again when both countries started the Joint Pilot Programme, but it remained sluggish.
But the fact that Nepali workers are paying for jobs is a step backwards, experts reiterate.
“Nepal’s commitment to zero cost jobs was praised. It’s the way forward, for protecting workers,” said Nepal. “Now it has taken a step back. I don’t think a rich country like Israel would not have agreed to provide airfare and other expenses for a small number of 500 workers if we would have approached about covering such expenses.”
“While signing labour agreements with relatively attractive countries, government rationale revolves around securing lucrative jobs,” said Baniya.
Further, experts also fear Nepal, as a labour sending country, making some countries cover all these expenses whereas letting others collect it from workers, not only lack coherence in its policies but might irk other destination countries.
According to experts, if employers in the Persian Gulf and Malaysia, which receive tens of thousands of workers every year can agree to pay workers’ fees and others costs, there should be no problem for countries like Israel, which hires a few hundreds workers.
“Such incoherence may set a bad precedent for labour diplomacy and make us weaker in negotiations,” said Baniya. “Employers must provide expenses over the fees and other services which is an international practice. Many companies, except those gone bankrupt or merely supplying workers, are already abiding by such principles.”
The Department of Foreign Employment said it would publish a notice about the process for sending workers to Israel within a month.
But given the lucrative job prospect in Israel, potential Nepali nurses will be ready to get jobs. Reports say that the nurses will earn $1500 a month, which the Post could not independently verify.
“Besides making workers pay for jobs, another major concern has been Nepali workers competing for these jobs,” said Baniya. “Imagine, thousands of workers start taking language classes and skills classes and the size of the investment. The country might end up spending more than earning from employment in Israel.”
Published on: 2 October 2020 | The Kathmandu Post