The Challenge for Nepal’s Migrant Workers
By Nandita Baruah & Shareen Tuladhar:
Nepalese citizens are increasingly moving abroad — particularly to Gulf countries — to find work. Will their rights be protected?
Last week countries around the world marked International Migrants Day in recognition of the 214 million international migrants on the move across the globe in search of better economic opportunity. Nowhere is this recognition more important than in Nepal, where foreign employment has become a viable livelihood option for millions who are unable to find work within the country. In recent years, though, sobering cases of labor exploitation and labor trafficking have been reported by Nepali labor migrants, who are increasingly calling for stronger government policies to protect the rights of migrant workers.
Qatar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait are the top five labor destination countries with the highest number of Nepali migrant workers. According to the Department of Foreign Employment, from January to December 2012, about half a million Nepali citizens (women and men) migrated abroad for work. Along with demand for low-skilled labor due to economic growth in the destination countries, Nepalis also seek work overseas as a result of poverty, unemployment, slow economic growth, and political instability at home. Most male Nepali migrant workers are employed in low-skilled sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, whereas the majority of female migrants work in the informal sector, either as caregivers or housemaids. While this might look promising in terms of employment opportunities, the plight of the migrants is far from ideal in terms of securing acceptable labor standards and safeguarding their basic labor rights such as formal contracts that specify minimum wage, timely payments, acceptable labor conditions, and health benefits.
From March 2012 to December 2012, The Asia Foundation, in partnership with local research institutes in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh, initiated a research project to examine the challenges of labor migration by focusing on the aspects of migration process of documented and undocumented migrant workers.