KATHMANDU, July 23: Kumud Khanal’s manpower business came to a screeching halt five months ago, thanks to the corona pandemic. He has no money even for daily expenses, let alone for payment for staff and other business costs. Khanal says that he is in a dire situation, and this actually reflects the scenario of the entire manpower business.
“The government increased the deposit amount for manpower agencies, which forced many of us to take loans. I also took a loan to pay for the deposit,” said Khanal. “It had not been even six months, and the pandemic hit, bringing our business to a standstill,” he added.
Labor Minister Gokarna Bista had drastically increased the deposit amount for manpower agencies last year. As per the new law, the agencies had to deposit Rs 20 to 60 million (depending on the numbers of workers sent abroad) while it was just Rs 700,000 of cash deposit and Rs 2.3 million of bank guarantee as per the scrapped law.
Following the new provision, 854 manpower agency owners across the country deposited the said amount by mid-September last year.
“We had no choice but to take loans. Manpower agency owners are in debt,” said Sujit Kumar Shrestha, general secretary of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies.
Shrestha stated that the manpower sector had hoped to make some money after February. Had things been smooth, they could have sent a huge number of workers overseas, and made a good income in the last few months. “But everything is in mess now. Even labor permits were stopped after March,” he laments.
Even though the lockdown has been lifted, stakeholders are not sure when the manpower sector will make a comeback. According to Narayan Parajuli, operator of Prudential Manpower Agency, it could take time for things to get smooth.
The companies estimate that around 10,000 staff in the manpower sector have lost their jobs. According to Prem Katuwal, who runs a manpower business said that they are “not able to pay even rents, many staff are on unpaid leave”. He anticipates an even worse situation unless the government intervenes.
Katuwal says that at least 50 percent manpower agency owners must have been forced to sell off their ancestral property. Manpower agencies have urged the government to let them use the deposit amount for now. This, however, has fallen on deaf ears, they state.
Meanwhile, advocate Somprasad Luintel suggests a different law in order to address the current crisis that the manpower agencies are facing.