Chandan Kumar Mandal
Foreign employment recruiting agencies are yet again in the mood for confrontation with the government.
This time, the disagreement surfaced after the government announced plans to send Nepali workers to Qatar under a Government-to-Government modality.
During a recent event organised by Foreign Employment Board, the newly-appointed Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Gaurishankar Chaudhary said the government was preparing to send Nepali workers, mainly security guards, to Qatar under a G2G mechanism.
According to Chaudhary, the government is preparing to send Nepali security guards to Qatar in view of the 2022 FIFA World Cup the Gulf state is hosting.
The statement, however, did not go down well with recruiting agencies that hire and supply Nepali workers to foreign employers. Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), a grouping of more than Nepali 850 recruiting agencies hiring workers on behalf of foreign employers, was quick to react. It threatened to launch protests if the government goes ahead with any such plans.
Recruiting agencies worry that they will lose their business if the government starts sending workers on its own. “Simply saying, the government has taken millions of rupees from recruiting agencies as a guarantee amount to run foreign employment businesses,” Sujit Kumar Shrestha, general secretary with the association, told the Post. “The agencies have been given operational licence to do business in exchange for the money. Now, the government wants to force us out of business.”
Under the G2G modality, government agencies from the source and the destination country oversee the overall process of labour migration, excluding third parties or private recruiting agencies from the process. This means that if the plan is implemented, Nepali recruiting agencies will be deprived of the opportunity to supply workers to Qatar, one of the top destination countries for Nepali migrants.
“Either the government should say that foreign employment-related business is no longer open for the private sector and take over the sector,” said Shrestha. “Or it should clearly order us to shut down our offices and return the money we deposited as guarantee. We will invest it elsewhere.”
Nepal currently has labour agreements with nine countries: Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Japan, Israel, Jordan, South Korea, Malaysia and Mauritius.
G2G agreements have been signed with South Korea, Japan, and Israel.
Nepal and Qatar already have a bilateral labour agreement, signed in 2005. Negotiations have been on for many years to review the deal, but nothing concrete has happened so far.
Labour migration expert Jeevan Baniya said sending workers, mainly through the G2G modality, could be possible as it involves a small number of workers.
“Looking at the minister’s statement, it seems that he was talking about sending Nepali security guards to Qatar through a G2G mechanism. Given the smaller number of people going for the job, the state machinery can manage them,” said Baniya, who is an assistant director of Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility at Social Science Baha. “But for sending workers, in general, under G2G, it will be next to impossible as it involves a huge number of workers. The country will need institutional arrangements as well as infrastructure to manage such a system.”
The Post’s attempt to contact Minister Chaudhary to seek details of the new G2G agreement could not succeed as he did not respond to calls and text messages.
However, Bharatmani Pandey, spokesperson for the ministry, told the Post discussions at the ministry on possible recruitment modalities are normal.
“The Labour Ministry discusses various options and possibilities when looking into agreements or deals with various labour destination countries,” said Pandey. “Such issues are part of internal discussions and preparations. But no decision has been made concerning Qatar as of now.”
But labour migration experts such as Baniya feel that although such a modality can benefit Nepali migrants, securing such a deal is easier said than done.
“Such G2G deals can promote fair, ethical and transparent recruitment practices and workers can reap benefits from the employers’ pay model, which holds employers responsible for all expenses,” said Baniya. “However, there is a need for clarity on a few things. For instance, the existing labour deal with Qatar says recruiting agencies will be involved in sending workers to Qatar. Also, Nepal can’t decide on the matter on its own. Even destination countries have to agree. That is unlikely as they tend to shrug off such burden.”
According to Baniya, clarity is also needed on how discussions over the G2G model, as taken up by the Labour Ministry, has progressed so far.
“Recruiting agencies complaining is quite obvious as they have been given the licence to do their business,” said Baniya. “But we also need to think why such policy departures or discussions for G2G take place because there have been issues with recruitment practices.”
Qatar currently hosts over 400,000 Nepali migrants and continues to be one of the most popular labour destinations among Nepali workers. A Labour Ministry report shows as many as 747 recruiting agencies are involved in sending workers to Qatar.
“Qatar is a major destination country. The government is already sending workers to Japan and Korea. Now, if the government sends workers to Qatar, then why should agencies invest such a huge amount in their businesses?” said Shrestha.
“The government has hardly done anything for the sector. Even new destination countries are explored by agencies.”
Published on: 11 March 2021 | The Kathmandu Post