Nepali workers at the glove-manufacturing company WRP had been similarly out of work for a month after the US banned imports of its gloves for human rights violations last year, but had still received a basic salary. One Nepali worker at WRP told us by phone: “I am not certain about the future. For now, I will stay in my hostel for the next two weeks and have been told that I will get paid a basic salary.”
But WRP is a big employer, and other migrant workers may not be as lucky. Workers at hotels and airlines have been forced to take unpaid leave. Not all Nepali workers will be staying home in isolation during the lockdown. As the only foreign workers allowed to work as security guards in Malaysia, thousands of them are expected to continue working long hours.
“We have made sure that guards have masks and hand sanitisers,” says Santosh Karki who works in the security business, “but uncertainty about how long we will be able to supply these necessities is worrisome.”
Nepali workers overseas have benefited from the health infrastructure of destination countries during this crisis, but as economies tumble, it is likely that many will experience mental stress, job losses and unpaid salaries when they return.
Nepali workers will also be returning to much more rudimentary health surveillance and medical care back home. The Foreign Employment Board is sitting on billions of rupees from the unused Foreign Employment Welfare Fund, which was designed for just such an emergency as the COVID-19 fallout.