Qatar has setup a Workers’ Support Insurance Fund that aims to ensure workers receive their unclaimed wages, but its implementation has remained slow. Nepali missions blacklist employers who are engaged in malpractices including wage theft, and bar them from future hires.
Nepal is not alone. Migrant workers from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan or Philippines face similar issues. The Manila-based Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) has partnered with trade unions and activists in a campaign advocating the establishment of an International Claims Commission, a compensation fund to address wage theft, and for returnees to have access to justice.
“When countries started repatriation of their workers, the issue of wage theft was not given due attention,” explains MFA’s Joanna Yu, adding that information on unclaimed wages were not collected, and complaint mechanisms were also absent.
After Nepal started repatriating workers, over 111,549 Nepalis have returned from 59 countries, with UAE (31,957),Qatar (18,941), Saudi (16,637), Malaysia (15,910) and Kuwait (9,773) topping the list. There is little information on how many of them did not receive salaries and benefits.
There are some good examples: the UAE paid out 261 million Dirhams ($71 million) worth of unpaid wages was delivered to 26,000 workers in Abu Dhabi by a mobile court to hear grievances filed in the first half of 2020. In Australia, Queensland has criminalised wage theft.
Nepali workers stuck in no man’s land, Nepali Times
Says Yu: “These good practices are not standardised across countries, but showcase how wage theft cases can be resolved expeditiously.”
In Malaysia, thousands of indebted migrant workers are getting back their recruitment costs after the US ban on imports from one of its largest glove-makers, Top Glove. The US Department of Labour recently put Malaysia’s rubber gloves on a list of goods produced by forced labour.
Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry says it has been going after errant companies and will continue to monitor and take action against employers failing to comply. The latex glove export sector in Malaysia has created five billionaires after the pandemic, but even as profits have skyrocketed the risk to reputation from inaction for them is high.
The vulnerability of remittances can be due to job losses of current migrants, or employment that future migrant workers may never get because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. But after the apathy shown towards migrants by the home government throughout these months, activists say, it is difficult to imagine that helping them recoup lost earnings will be a priority.
Although money transfers from Nepali workers abroad has not fallen this year as predicted, a true picture of the impact of Covid-19 on remittances will be seen after the festivals.
The World Bank has said the number of people living in extreme poverty around the world will rise by 88 million to 115 million. In Nepal, many of these ‘newly poor’ will be migrant worker families deprived of a steady flow of remittances.
Some names have been changed