NST 02:26:15pm Sun, Feb, 18, 2018

Government to sign labour pact with Saudi Arabia

Published 21 February 2014. The Kathmandu Post.

The government is preparing to sign a labour agreement with Saudi Arabia in a bid to regulate the migratory process of domestic migrant workers. 

The Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) has been holding consultations with stakeholders concerned to incorporate worker-friendly provisions in the preliminary draft of the agreement.

MoLE officials said the planned labour pact will bring the migratory process of women migrants under a legal frame. Nepali women have been taking informal channels to go to Saudi Arabia as Nepal’s mission in Riyadh doesn’t accredit work contract for housemaid, citing involved risks.

An estimated 500,000 Nepali migrants are working in Saudi Arabia , of which 60,000 are women illegally working as domestic help, according to Nepal’s mission there.

Nepal and Saudi Arabia have not signed any labour agreement so far.

MoLE Secretary Suresh Man Shrestha said his ministry is studying similar labour pacts signed by Saudi Arabia with other countries. He said the ministry is planning to set provisions based on the labour pacts Saudi Arabia has signed with other countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines.  “ Saudi Arabia has been requesting us to sign the agreement as many other countries have already done it,” said Shrestha.

MoLE recently directed Nepal’s embassy in Riyadh not to restrict Nepali housemaids from entering Saudi Arabia if they are above 30 years old. Saudi Arabia signed a labour agreement with Sri Lanka in January after the Philippines and India. The Saudi government is also working to sign labour pacts with other major labour-exporting countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Cambodia, according to the local media there.

MoLE sources said the government wants to sign an “overall agreement” instead of signing a separate agreement just for domestic migrant workers. “They (the Saudi government) have long been insisting us to sign an agreement for domestic help as there is a huge scarcity of housemaid. But we have been telling them to sign an overall agreement to safeguard the rights of all workers,” said a high-level ministry official.

Most labour-sending countries in South and South East Asia do not encourage female to go to Saudi Arabia as the domestic law of the Gulf kingdom, international rights groups say, falls short of international standard to protect domestic help.

Stakeholders said such a labour agreement could prove helpful in protecting Nepali women from abuse and exploitation of employers, while encouraging them to take formal channels for departing to the country. According to documents obtained from the Nepali embassy in Saudi Arabia , at least 163 women were rescued and sent back to Nepal in the last five months after facing physical, economic and psychological exploitation from local employers.

Meanwhile, the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), umbrella organisation of recruiting agencies in the country, has reportedly signed an agreement with its Saudi counterpart to send women workers at 800-riyal-a-month salary.

The agreement comes at a time when the government plans to fix around Rs 30,000 as minimum salary for housemaid. The “disgraceful” agreement has reportedly incorporated a provision that requires women to work for 30 days a month without leave. NAFEA, however, says no such contract has been signed.

Published 21 February 2014. The Kathmandu Post.