One Nepali employee of WRP told this paper then that 544 Nepali workers received compensation of Rs130,000. Many Nepali workers paid between Rs80,000 to Rs150,000 to recruitment agents for those jobs — equivalent to between 4 and 7 months of salary.
“We are working 11 hours a day, six days a week through the pandemic,” said the worker. “Initially we were nervous, but precautions are being taken and they are very strict about outsiders’ access to the plant.”
Recruitment fees that agents charge workers is seen as one of the major challenges in Nepal’s migration governance, blamed for making workers more vulnerable, recruiters more powerful, and reform efforts difficult.
It was high migration costs that made overseas jobs hard to get for the poorest Nepalis. Earlier policies tried to focus on making migration accessible to all by providing workers low-interest loans. More recent policies focus on an employer-pays principle, including the ‘free-visa-free-ticket’ policy announced in 2015. However, that policy faced resistance from recruitment agencies and has been difficult to implement.
Ethical recruiters who have adopted the employer pays model have struggled to mobilise even a single worker. Many workers desperate for overseas jobs are willing to pay the fees, and recruiters end up channeling job offers to those with the greatest willingness to pay.
An MOU was signed between Nepal and Malaysia and a few other destination countries, that include provisions on employer pay principle, but implementation has been weak. Given this reality, the British aid agency DFID has partnered with private banks to give collateral-free loans to outgoing migrants from Province 2 to free them from loan sharks.
Top Glove, for instance, had adopted zero-cost recruitment in January 2019, but it took a sanction by the US amidst the pandemic to push them to action. Employers reimbursing costs is good news for Nepali workers at least in Malaysia, where the manufacturing sector alone hires over three quarters of the Nepali migrant workers in that country.
The Malaysia glove maker example shows that actions that cause a dent on employer profits and reputation seem to invoke the right responses and spread caution among others who hire foreign workers.
Similarly, negative international publicity about exploitation of migrant workers in the construction of FIFA World Cup stadiums also forced Qatar to adopt worker-friendly laws and policies, although problems persist.