The news these days always has cases or incidents of death, migrant workers’ plight, and of their family members being left in the lurch. Despite of the repeated occurrence of these incidents, the number of aspiring migrant workers is increasing every year.
It is no new news that Nepal is a high supplier of migrant workers, especially in gulf countries and Malaysia. Nepal’s GDP is highly dependent on remittances sent by migrant workers, 32 percent to be exact. According to recent ILO Status report on labor migration, as many as 520,000 migrant workers pursue employment abroad every year. Also the census data shows that the absent population reported in 2011 was 1,921,494, a big jump from the number of 762,181 of the census of 2001.
These facts raise questions as to whether migrant workers are aware of the risks and dangers they might face while working abroad. Do they have all the information needed before going to work on a foreign land? To find out whether or not the migrant workers have the access and the information required before going abroad, a survey was conducted by Center for Migration and International Relations.
The data we received provided a shocking reality. Only 33 percent of aspiring migrant workers seemed to be willing to give an idea on the level of difficulty and challenges of working abroad, and all of them seemed to think it would be fairly easy to access this information if they needed it. However, the situation seems to change for non-first timer migrant worker as they actually tried seeking it. As much as 50 percent of them found it difficult to access information about the challenges of working abroad.
Not only were the aspiring migrant workers unaware of the problems they might face while working abroad, but they didn’t even have the information about the legal process to be followed before pursuing foreign employment. When asked about the reason for unawareness of basic information on rules and regulation of their destination country, most of the migrant workers stated that seeking such information benefitted them in no way.
Among the total migrant workers interviewed, 36 percent are aware that the information exists, but do not see it as a priority and 36 percent wish to get the information but do not know where to search.
This result was way different from the mindset we had before conducting the survey. While we thought that the lack of information was due to the ineffectiveness of government set up institutions that are responsible for disseminating relevant information, it is also due to migrant workers lesser importance to seek information. For example orientation classes which are maintained to provide all the necessary information to the migrant workers are made compulsory by the government. However in practice, these orientation classes are taken as nominal formality to fulfill the basic requirement for going abroad. The use of proxies in place of the migrant worker or providing the certificate for orientation class by a middle man in exchange of money is practiced.
Similarly, migrant workers weren’t familiar with the insurance procedures. While they knew that it was mandatory to have a life insurance, they however had no knowledge of what those insurance policies covered, what the claim procedures were and where such insurance could be claimed if any damages were to occur. In many cases, migrant workers had claimed their insurance after the time limit had passed but they had a hard times getting the compensation. Similarly, unawareness among government set up institutions like Foreign Employment Promotion Board and counseling centers that are supposed to help migrant workers on various aspects was baffling.
The legal provision regarding the maximum amount to be paid to a recruitment agency is set at Rs 10,000 which is a fact unknown to most of the migrant workers. Even the ones who knew that such provisions existed were ready to pay more than the fixed amount if it meant they could go abroad. When being asked on why they were ready to pay extra money, they stated that the legal provisions were never followed in practice.
Issues such as fraud and breach of contract are rampant due to unawareness among the aspiring migrant workers. All these facts only give a glimpse of a bigger picture.
Both the writers are students at Kathmandu School of Law.