Seed money for migrant workers, entrepreneurs as government targets employment opportunities inside country

Chandan Kumar Mandal

The government has announced a plan to provide initial capital to returnee migrant workers for starting their own ventures in the country.

The plan is aimed at absorbing the Nepali migrant workers who are likely to return from the Covid-19 hit labour destination countries into the domestic labour market.

Presenting the annual policies and programmes for the fiscal year 2020-21, President Bidya Bhandari on Friday said the government would offer seed money to innovative youths, entrepreneurs and returnee migrant workers to start new ventures.

To revive the country’s labour sector, which is devastated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government will also help new entrepreneurs with skills development and improve market access, according to the fiscal policies and programmes.

Production of skilled workers, respect to work, self-employment, fair remuneration and labour management with ensured social security are at the heart of the government's labour policy as the global pandemic will create unemployment in the country, President Bhandari pointed out.

“The domestic market, as it were, was not offering enough job opportunities. Now, with the pandemic and the migrant workers likely to return home, the labour market could shrink further, making the unemployment problem worse,” President Bhandari said. “The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the government's priorities. Now the focus will be on health, education and employment creation and the revival of economy.”

However, experts in the field of labour and migration sector say these measures will not be enough to deal with the ‘extraordinary situation’ that has emerged due to the global pandemic.

“Providing seed money looks like a rudimentary recovery plan for dealing with the crisis,” Jeevan Baniya, a labour migration researcher, said. “It is to send out a message that the government is doing something.”

According to Baniya, also the assistant director of Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility at Social Science Baha, a think tank, there is a risk of the plan to distribute seed money becoming a mere populist move if the procedures are complicated.

In 2018, the government had come up with a similar scheme to provide soft loan to returnee migrant workers to utilise their skills and experience in the country. Despite seeing an encouraging response from returnee migrants, they could not benefit from the scheme because of the complicated guidelines in accessing the loans.

“It takes a long time in meeting all the procedural requirements,” said Baniya. “Also, not everyone would be getting financial support. The vulnerability of migrant workers can be different. Therefore, there should be data collection on migrant workers at the time of their repatriation and how affected they were because of the pandemic.”

Baniya suggested local levels, specifically ward levels, should be made responsible for supporting such migrants, as they can have a better understanding of workers' situation and help them accordingly.

Labour migration researcher Swarna Kumar Jha has cautiously welcomed the plan announced by the government for returnee migrant workers.

“There must be criteria for distribution of seed money based on the vulnerability of the workers,” said Jha, a coordinator with the National Network for Safe Migration, an organisation working in the field of labour migration and migrants’ rights.

“Providing seed money can turn out to be ineffective like past years when it was based on skills of workers, but skills of returnee migrant workers could not be utilised nor recognised here in the country.”

According to Jha, there should be a clear mention of the amount a migrant worker would be getting as there are different groups of migrant workers as well.

“Some are workers earning handsome salaries than others. Some might need a higher amount than others for starting their ventures,” said Jha. “Therefore, the allocation would be different, which should be based on the category of workers’ income and their vulnerability.”

The policies and programmes also highlighted that the unemployed population would be given jobs in commercial agriculture, infrastructure development, small and medium scale industries, manufacturing industries, construction and service sector.

In a bid to deal with the shortage of skilled workers, programmes of agencies working in the sector of labour production and skill development will be implemented in an integrated manner. The government also plans to organise mobile training skills in all the local levels.

Likewise, the Prime Minister Employment Programme (PMEP) will be implemented as a campaign to target unemployed sections after linking it with other employment schemes.

“The PMEP, which only ensures 100-days of temporary jobs, alone can not be sufficient for job creation in the country. The government will have to coordinate with other stakeholders for new jobs,” said Jha. “The government has been saying the labour force will be mobilised in the agricultural sector. But it’s not necessary that all the migrant workers, whose lifestyles have changed after working abroad, would be interested in farm works.”

Published on: 16 May 2020 | The Kathmandu Post

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