Third party involvement in Japan job programme contradicts agreement

Radio Darpan

Kathmandu, December 21

After signing a controversial labour agreement with Israel that makes Nepali workers pay to go to the country for jobs, the government has now drafted a directive to implement the understanding with Japan, which contradicts the essence of the agreement and also envisages imposing expenses on Nepali workers.

In March 2019, both countries signed an understanding on sending Nepali workers with the status of residence of Specified Skilled Workers (SSW) to Japan.

As per the understanding between the two governments, private recruiting agencies don’t get to hire and supply Nepali workers. The agreement says that recruitment is to be carried out under a government-to-government (G2G) modality.

However, a draft of the directive prepared by the Ministry of Labour Employment and Social Security has a provision that a third party or a supporting agency will be facilitating the labour migration to Japan.

The draft of the directive, a copy of which was obtained by the Post, says a third party agency will be in operation for handling the demand of Nepali workers to be hired under the existing deal between Nepal and Japan.

But during negotiations for signing the deal, ‘Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) on sending Nepali workers with the status of residence of Specified Skilled Workers (SSW) to Japan’, both countries had strictly ruled out the role of any third party agencies while hiring and supplying workers to Japan in a bid to eliminate possible malpractices.

According to a former official with the Labour Ministry who did not want to be identified, the deal between Japan and Nepal was signed under the G2G modality, which means there is no space for intermediary agents or private agencies.

“Since the negotiation of the deal, we stressed the G2G modality and having no third party in the hiring process, as we have had malpractices in the past as well,” said the official, who had closely followed the negotiations during his tenure at the Labour Ministry. “For the demand for workers, the Nepali mission in Japan would attest the documents like it is happening in the case of labour migration to other countries.”

The labour agreement said a separate unit would be set up under the Department of Foreign Employment to facilitate the process of recruiting Nepali workers. The dedicated unit would also assist the Japanese side in conducting language and skill tests in Nepal.

Labour Ministry officials declined to comment on this particular provision saying the draft was still under discussion.

“The directive regarding sending Nepali workers to Japan is still being discussed,” Bharatmani Pandey, spokesperson for the ministry, told the Post. “I will not know anything about this document until it is finalised.”

Another Labour Ministry official Hari Prasad Mainali, chief of the Employment Coordination Division, said the draft was not finalised.

Yet another controversial provision in the directive says workers could be paying for Japanese jobs under the new agreement.

The provision is not only against the labour agreement, which promised ‘zero cost’ jobs to Nepali workers, but it also clashes with Nepal government’s policy of promoting zero investment jobs to its workers in new labour deals and revision of existing ones.

The new directive of sending workers to Japan mentions that workers would be required to pay for their airfare, insurance, medical examinations, the contribution of Foreign Employer Welfare Fund and labour permit if the employer does not cover such expenses.

Mainali, the joint-secretary with the Labour Ministry, who earlier said the directive was under discussion and no comment would be made on third-party provision, however, said workers would be hired under two modalities—employers pay and workers pay.

“Some companies may be ready to pay all the expenses on behalf of workers. If those companies cover all the expenses, workers hired by such companies will not have to pay anything,” said Mainali. “Workers going to work in other companies will have to bear all the expenses by themselves.”

Nepal’s landmark labour agreement with Malaysia promised free jobs for Nepali workers. Likewise, reviewing of labour agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar and signing of new deals with Jordan, Mauritius, including Japan, also signalled that the government policy is clear on zero cost jobs or the ‘employer pays’ model, under which the employer is responsible for all the fees and costs of hiring.

Making Nepali workers pay for Israeli jobs under the new deal signed in October has already met with severe criticism and is seen as a reversal of its commitment to promoting fair and ethical recruitment of Nepali workers.

Such provision does not only create confusion and lacks consistency on the government’s policies regarding foreign employment but is also unfair to aspiring migrant workers. Some of them would be getting free jobs whereas others would be required to invest themselves.

Nepal is the only South Asian country from where Japan would be hiring workers for 14 industrial sectors. Over the first five years, about 345,000 foreign workers will be hired from China, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Despite nearly 19 months of inking the labour deal, not a single Nepali worker has migrated to work in Japan.

“There was a long negotiation for finalising the labour agreement,” said the former Labour Ministry official. “But one thing that the deal was crystal clear about was not making workers pay for the job in Japan.”