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Bista’s Malaya coup

Bista’s Malaya coup

Any way you look at it, the recent labor agree­ment between Nepal and Malaysia is a land­mark deal. Nepali laborers will henceforth not have to pay a single rupee to go and work in what is Nepal’s number one labor importing country (besides India), with a floating population of around Nepali 400,000 workers. The recruitment service charges, two-way air fares, visa fees, medical check-up cost—all will now be borne by the employers in Malaysia. Nepal government had stopped sending workers to Malaysia five months ago, in protest against the hefty fees being imposed on its poor workers: on average, a worker had to fork out at least Rs 80,000 to cover all costs.

Minister for Labor Gokarna Bista had gotten a lot of flak for it. The south-east Asian country could never be forced to accept Nepali workers, the critics said, when it could easily import cheaper labor from Ban­gladesh and Pakistan. But Bista held his ground, firm in his belief that the quality of Nepali workers was superior—in that they are considered more adept and reliable—than those from other competing labor-ex­porting countries. His faith has been vindicated. This is another feather in the cap of Bista, who in his earlier avatar as the Minister of Energy had also done a com­mendable job.

Manpower agencies in Nepal are now cribbing and complaining. According to the new agreement, they will from now on be paid directly by the companies hiring Nepali manpower. Their cut will amount to half a month’s salary of the recruited worker. They say it is nearly not enough to cover their costs and have threat­ed to stop recruiting people to go to Malaysia if they cannot get at least a month’s salary of the recruited workers. The way we see it, with Nepal exporting an average of around 600,000 workers a year, the man­power agencies can still earn enough. If they want still more, they are in the wrong business.

No business should be allowed to thrive on exploita­tion of some of the poorest people in the society. Hav­ing inked the deal with Malaysia, the government must now not give in to the manpower agencies’ pressure tactics. It is unlikely to, in any case. Rumors are that the government is preparing similar agreements with oth­er big importers of Nepali labor in the Gulf. Perhaps the days of the unscrupulous manpower agencies are truly numbered.