Government formally resumes labour migration to Malaysia after nearly 16 months

Chandan Kumar Mandal

In May last year, Sakar Adhikari, a fresh civil engineering graduate, was excited for his first job abroad. Adhikari, now 22, had everything in front of his eyes—a lucrative job in Malaysia with promising facilities.

As a Building Information Modeling coordinator for the reputed Malaysian technical company CNQC, he would get 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit per month.

As he was preparing for his departure, the government geared up to stop labour migration to the south-east Asian country after Malaysia-bound Nepali workers were charged hefty fees under various headings.

On May 17, 2018, the government decided to scrap all the fees levied on Nepali migrant workers under various headings as part of the Malaysian government’s one-sided policy.

Following the decision, the government launched a crackdown on various institutions that were involved in collecting unauthorised fees from migrant workers. This resulted in the suspension of Nepali workers’ departures for Malaysia. Workers like Adhikari had no option but to wait for the resumption of labour departures. Adhikari’s employer had applied for his visa, but it got rejected.

“In the last 16 months, I have relentlessly waited for the resumption of Nepali workers’ departures for Malaysia,” said Adhikari. “After a long delay, my employer was ready to cancel the job offer.”

Since then, Adhikari has been following on every bit of negotiation between the two countries. The government decision on Sunday to allow Nepalis to take up jobs in Malaysia has come as a much-needed respite for Adhikari and hundreds of others who were in the process of leaving for foreign jobs.

“I can finally tell my employer to start the procedure so that I can go there to work,” said Adhikari.

The breakthrough comes after months of negotiations since the signing of a ‘landmark’ labour deal between the two countries in October 2018.

Last week, officials from both countries agreed to formally implement the labour deal which guarantees free jobs for Nepali workers and relieves them of financial burden including a service charge for recruiting agency, two-way airfare, visa fees, medical examination, and security screenings.

Umesh Dhungana, joint-secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, told the Post that labour migration to Malaysia has finally resumed with both countries agreeing to implement the deal that requires the employer to bear all the expenses of recruitment.

“Labour migration will take place as per the previously existing mechanism for now. But the workers will not have to pay for any pre-departure services as agreed in the labour agreement,” said Dhungana.

The halt to departures for Malaysia had ensued after the Nepal government scrapped various fees totalling up to Rs 18,480 levied on Nepali workers.

The workers had been paying for MiGRAMS, bio-metric medical test, services of One Stop Centre (OSC) operated by Malaysia VLN Nepal Pvt Ltd, ISC, and visa fees.

Workers aspiring to work in Malaysia had to pay Rs3,300 for online registration (MiGRAMS); Rs4,500 for bio-metric identification; Rs3,164 to OSC; Rs3,616 for VLN; Rs3,200 for ISC; except for the visa stamping fee of Rs700 to the Malaysian Embassy.

The government has termed those services as invalid as they were enforced on Nepali workers over the years without the consent of Nepal.

By scrapping all those fees, the government had tried to break the monopoly of health institutions in issuing health certificates to Malaysia-bound workers as only 36 such health facilities could conduct health check-ups for Malaysia job seekers.

The second Joint Working Group meeting, consisting of officials from both countries, held in Malaysia last week agreed to resume the labour migration by conducting health examination through 36 already enlisted health facilities and to induct more health institutions for the process in future.

For now, workers will get their medical examinations done through the same 36 health facilities, whose services the government had called ‘invalid’ and wanted to break the monopoly.

A team from Malaysia will be visiting Nepal in November to inspect 86 health institutions—out of the 122 enlisted by the government—to enlist them as medical examination facilities authorised to conduct fitness tests for Malaysia-bound Nepali workers. However, the fate of the remaining health institutions completely relies on the visiting Malaysian team.

“It would be too late if we wait until they come here for inspection. We have resumed the departures through the already existing agencies,” said Dhungana. “However, it doesn’t mean they are illegal or their services are invalid. Even those 36 health institutions were selected by the government after they met the standards.”

According to Arjun Kharel, labour and migration researcher at the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility, the new labour deal ensures zero investment jobs for Nepali workers but the implementation of the labour agreement will not be as easy as expected.

“We have to see how smoothly the implementation goes in the next few months,” said Kharel. “It has to reflect in all phases of labour migration from hiring to working in Malaysia.”

According to Kharel, relieving workers of these pre-departure fees will not make a huge difference unless the exorbitant fees charged by the recruiting agencies are controlled.

“Workers have paid from a minimum Rs100,000 to Rs200,000 for jobs in Malaysia. These fees are only a small fraction of their investment for the job,” said Kharel. “Workers are paying above the government ceiling for reaching labour destination countries that promise ‘employer pay model’. We will have to see how the government brings down that investment while implementing the deal that warrants no expenses on the part of workers.”

Published on: 16 September 2019 | The Kathmandu Post

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