Qatar is looking towards Nepal for workers to fill service sector jobs during the FIFA World Cup 2022 as it gets ready to host the greatest sporting event in the world.
The oil-rich Gulf country has massively upgraded and built new infrastructure for the football championships scheduled for November, and needs hordes of workers to run them.
Nepal has allowed Qatar to hire Nepali workers for a temporary period covering the World Cup, officials said.
“We have been informed by the Nepal Embassy in Doha about the interest expressed by Qatari companies to hire Nepali workers for service sector jobs during the World Cup,” Thaneshwar Bhusal, under-secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, told the Post.
“A ministerial-level decision last Friday gave the green light to move the process forward,” Bhusal said.
The World Cup is scheduled to take place in Qatar from November 21 to December 18. This is the first World Cup ever to be held in the Arab world.
In a bid to accommodate the expected influx of players, supporters and the media, Qatar’s hotel industry has added 26,000 hotel rooms, according to a report.
“We have demanded a free-visa free-ticket scheme for Nepali workers. The employer must bear all costs,” said Bhusal.
Nepal’s labour force has made a significant contribution during the construction of infrastructure in Qatar for its biggest footballing event. “Hence, Nepalis should be given priority in service sector jobs.”
The number of workers to be hired has not been decided.
The decision to hire Nepali workers in the service sector comes amid growing criticism of Qatar for sending away workers early and placing them on five months’ unpaid leave so they will not be visible during the tournament.
According to reports, the Gulf nation last year made a policy to send away thousands of migrant workers who built the stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup.
Labour experts say such a step will not only add to the financial burden of migrant workers, but also rob them of the recognition they deserve for their efforts.
“Though a country is free to form policies as per its needs, the workers who have given their blood and sweat to develop massive properties deserve honour and recognition,’ said Rameshwar Nepal, a labour migration expert.
“Those who have legal rights to remain there and watch the football championship should not be denied the opportunity,” Nepal added.
Experts say the most important aspect that needs to be focused on is migrant rights.
Migrant departures from Nepal had stopped briefly due to Covid-19, but the exodus is now back to pre-pandemic levels. More than 1,700 young Nepalis are leaving the country daily to work abroad, as per official figures.
In the last fiscal year ended July 16, more than 628,503 people received labour permits, the second highest number on record, according to government statistics. The figure excludes young people leaving the country for higher education and neighbouring India.
The money sent home by migrant workers has become the backbone of Nepal’s economy over the years. Remittance inflows amounted to Rs986.2 billion in the last fiscal year ended mid-July, according to the Department of Foreign Employment.
The Gulf countries and Malaysia are top labour destinations for Nepalis. Hundreds of Nepalis have died, got injured or faced labour exploitation over the years in these countries.
The families of 7,467 deceased migrant workers and 1,513 others who sustained injuries or suffered from sickness received compensation between 2008-09 and 2018-19 from the Foreign Employment Board, the agency responsible for the welfare of Nepali migrant workers, according to a government report.
“The inability of our government to strongly raise safety issues during bilateral meetings is one of the reasons affecting the safety and security of Nepali migrant workers,” said Jeevan Baniya, assistant director at the Centre for Study of Labour and Mobility, Social Science Baha, a non-profit organisation involved in research in the social sciences in Nepal.
Even though government officials say worker safety has always been their top priority, labour experts say Nepal’s concerns are hardly raised.
“We have been constantly raising the issue about the safety of Nepali workers abroad. Talks have been held with the stakeholders in Qatar as well as other labour destinations,” said Bhusal.
Nepal has not been able to effectively intervene when issues of labour rights violations come to light.
“Our labour diplomacy has been weak,” said labour expert Nepal. “Though the labour agreements Nepal has signed recently are a bit better, they still lack details regarding worker rights and protection schemes.”
A recently published report based on a two-year investigation by the Equidem Research and Global Labour Justice-International Labour Rights Forum found rampant labour and human rights abuse at 13 out of the 17 FIFA-partnered hotel groups in Qatar.
“By interviewing 80 labourers from 10 countries, including Nepal, working at the hotels which will host players and visitors during the World Cup, it was revealed that migrant workers were subjected to discrimination based on nationality and race,” said Nepal, South Asia Director at Equidem Research, a United Kingdom-based human rights research organisation.
“They were underpaid and faced pay cuts especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. They were charged illegal recruitment fees and made to work overtime without pay,” he said.
“My salary does not reflect my skill level, it reflects my nationality,” the report quoted a Nepali employed at the Westin Hotel in Doha as saying. “While Filipinas are paid 1,600 Qatari riyal for the same work, we are paid 1,000.”
Some women workers reported being harassed by their colleagues, supervisor as well as guests, Nepal added.
For years, exploitation of Nepali workers abroad has not stopped.
“Our embassies and diplomatic missions in labour destinations have been limited to carrying out administrative work,” said Ganesh Gurung, a senior labour migration expert.
“We have many weaknesses. We have not been able to send workers by making them skillful. The government is responsible for this. Besides, we conduct weak labour negotiations.”
Working with the International Labour Organisation since 2018, Qatar established a non-discriminatory minimum wage, developed an electronic payment system to promote timely and full payment of wages, and established some procedures to identify and remedy violations of workers’ rights.
Equidem Research says that the new laws have blunted some of the harshest features of the kafala system, allowing migrant workers more freedom to change jobs without employers’ permission.
Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have taken some similar measures to curb employers’ control over workers. Despite recent reforms, significant challenges to implementation and enforcement remain in Qatar and elsewhere, the report says.
Nepali migrant workers are mostly unskilled because they belong to a lower economic strata. They are forced to leave the country without basic information about their labour destinations and work environment.
The government has not been able to implement the upgraded curriculum of the pre-departure orientation training, according to experts. The curriculum provides useful information about rules and regulations, traffic rules, labour laws and local culture and traditions.
A new curriculum was introduced to provide country-specific information for outgoing labourers through audio-visual medium, but it remains unimplemented. Organisations responsible for providing such training say they cannot implement the new curriculum by following the existing working procedure.
“The new curriculum has already become outdated with the ever-changing dynamics in the labour sector,” said Baniya.
“A revised curriculum was enforced on February 13 last year,” said Maiya Kadel, under-secretary and a director at the Training and Research Section at the Foreign Employment Board.
“However, the institutions registered to provide such training have not implemented it. They have been demanding a revision of the working procedure as well as the curriculum.”
Raja Ram Gautam, president of the Federation of Foreign Employment Orientation Associations Nepal, said they had been providing the same orientation training for the past decade.
“The main issue hindering its implementation is the existing working procedure. We have been urging the authorities to amend it for the past four years, but they do not listen,” said Gautam.
“While the board has not provided us with audio-visual training materials, there is no clarity if an institution needs to provide country-specific training for all countries or for only one country,” Gautam added.
The government has formed a committee to resolve issues regarding the pre-departure orientation training programme.
A large number of Nepali workers have died in traffic accidents.
“It could have been reduced if the pre-departure orientation training programme had been implemented properly,” said Nepal.
Pawan Pandey is a reporter for The Kathmandu Post.