KATHMANDU, Sept 13: While acknowledging the fact that millions of blue-collar workers from this region are employed in Gulf countries and beyond in hazardous working condition, diplomats from South Asian countries have underscored the need for these labor-sending countries to work together for the safety and well-being of these workers.
Addressing a function organized in capital by Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung to weigh the possibility of South Asian countries to work together to improve working condition and their pay, former diplomats of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka said these countries can forge common position on the pay and perks of workers and negotiate with the host countries to improve working condition of migrant workers.
The diplomats maintained that various factors such as competition among South Asian countries themselves to send workers in minimum pay and perks to send their own workers to the labor destinations and illiteracy and lack of necessary skills among migrant workers had left these migrant workers to work in the harsh work condition.
Former Indian Ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae said South Asian countries can ensure coordination in managing migrant workers in Gulf and elsewhere in a number of ways including sharing their experiences in dealing with the issues concerning migrant workers at home and coordinating with each other negotiation with the labor destination countries to improve terms and conditions of the migrant workers. He said that South Asian countries can agree on common minimum condition of workers including their pay and perks and quietly negotiate with the host countries.
Former Pakistani Ambassador to Qatar Arif Kamal said since the remittance sent by the migrant workers is lifeblood to the economy of many of these countries the government has bigger responsibility to work for the cause of migrant workers. “There is a greater potential to hare experience among SAARC countries although the SAARC itself has failed to live up to its expectation,” he said.
Ambassador Kamal also highlighted the need to address the challenges posed by Kafala system that is practiced in most Gulf countries. Stating that many workers do not know the consequences of running away from their original employers, he also underscored the need to ensure pre-departure orientation to each migrant worker to provide knowledge about all aspects of overseas work.
Former Sri Lankan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Javed Yusuf said South Asian can jointly lobby with the labor receiving countries for improvement working condition and pay and perks of migrant workers. “We can all agree on the common minimum working condition for all workers and their access to legal system. Labor sending countries from South Asian can then lobby for these things both at the bilateral level and multilateral level,” he said.
Stating that South Asian countries can learn much from Philippines in terms of the welfare of migrant workers, Ambassador Yusuf said that much of the problems seen among migrant workers can be address if the recruitment process at home is improved. He said that lack of awareness among workers about the culture of destination countries, sufficient knowledge about their working condition before their departure and lack of awareness about local laws of the destination countries have left migrant workers vulnerable to different forms of exploitation.
Former Nepali ambassador and Under Secretary General of United Nations Gyan Chandra Acharya was of the view that South Asian countries can bilaterally or multilaterally negotiate with the labor destination countries on case by case basis. Stating that there has been limited cooperation among South Asian countries on issue related to migrant workers under the SAARC framework, Acharya South Asian countries must be able to work in coordinated manner on various safeguard measures of migrant workers and their pay and perks.