Kathmandu, May 13, 2016:Â The government has decided to allow Nepali women to work abroad as housemaids, backtracking on its resolve to lift the restriction only after signing separate labour agreements with the host countries.
Nepali women aged 24 and above will now be able to take up domestic jobs in the Gulf and Malaysia with the help of selected recruiting agencies, according to Minister for Labour and Employment Deepak Bohara.
Nepal imposed a â€œtemporary banâ€ on sending housemaids in July, 2014, citingÂ the need for stronger â€œregulations to protect themÂ from widespread abuseÂ and exploitationâ€ abroad. The government had also made public commitments to signing pacts with the labour receiving countries to ensure womenâ€™s safety arguing that partial and blanket bans introduced half a dozen times had been ineffective.
In April last year, the government endorsed new guidelines, making major changes to the law, besides setting the minimum age, salary and benefits for women leaving as domestic workers. Consulting with recruiting agencies for women willing to take up the jobs is being made mandatory for the first time.
But the government could not convince any of the labour receiving countries to sign separate pacts on domestic helps, according to ministry officials. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been pressing Nepali officials to allow housemaids access to the countries through the formal channel.
â€œWe sent a draft of the proposal to several governments. None of the labour receiving governments in the Gulf was eager to sign a separate agreement on domestic helps. They want to hire Nepali housemaids but are not ready to make any reforms in the Kafala law that governs the domestic sector,â€ said an official at the Department of Foreign Employment, adding that the decision was taken unilaterally by Minister Bohara.
The official said that Nepal was bound to lose if the minister pressed ahead with his plan to send workers as per the terms and conditions set by the governments and employers in the Gulf.
The government has already chosen 49 agencies to send housemaids. The decision has divided stakeholders including the agencies and rights activists. While some activists argue that the government should start giving work permits to domestic helps as the new guidelines ensure proper safety nets, many argue that the rules would make little difference without the labour receiving governments accepting it.
A majority of recruiting agencies, who are against the decision as only a few firms were selected for the purpose, have also suggested that the government sign labour agreements first.
The government was forced to stop sending women as domestic workers on the recommendation of Nepalâ€™s foreign missions. Ambika Joshi, second secretary at the Nepali embassy in Kuwait, said the missions in the Gulf had advised the government to sign labour agreements before lifting the restriction.
Labour Ministry officials argue that they decided to lift the ban after realising that many women were going abroad through India with the help of recruitment agencies, unauthorised agents and travel agencies using travel visa.
Minister Bohara defended the decision. â€œThe provision enlisted in the new guidelines seeks to make recruiting agencies responsible and ensure rights and welfare of the female migrants,â€ he said.
According to the measures, every worker is entitled to cost-free hiring, proper accommodation, 24-hour health and life insurance, a weekly holiday and 30-day annual leave and regular contact with their families back home.
Housemaid should get $300 in minimum wage.
It also makes it binding for the sponsor or foreign agencies to receive female migrants at the airport, take her to the Nepali embassy within a week of her arrival and then every four months.
The guidelines require the human resource agencies based in work destinations to obtain accreditation from the Nepali embassies to hire Nepali maids.