Clarion call to enforce fair recruitment to protect human rights of migrant workers

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The International Conference on Protection of Rights of the Migrant Workers concluded with a 21-point Kathmandu Declarations.

Chandan Kumar Mandal

Unethical recruitment practices and poor access to justice are the significant factors leading to violations of human rights of migrant workers, according to human rights activists, policymakers and labour migration experts.

At the three-day International Conference on Protection of Rights of the Migrant Workers—organised by National Human Rights Commission, Nepal—participants concurred that although workers face various issues in the labour destination countries, the problem begins in their home country with the recruitment process which is often not transparent.

The conference concluded on Thursday in Kathmandu by adopting a 21-point Kathmandu Declaration stressing the commitment to eliminate overcharging, forgery and deceit in the recruitment process.

They agreed that the unethical recruitment process will be tackled through collective oversight and monitoring of recruiters by relevant state law enforcement authorities, human rights agencies, trade unions and civil society organisations.

During the event, 140 participants from 27 countries discussed how to ensure the rights of migrant workers, who are vulnerable to various forms of exploitations, at various phases of migrations.

According to Alcestis Abrera Mangahas, former deputy regional director, ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, chaotic intermediation, fraudulent recruitment process, high fees of both government and private sector are some of the key challenges faced by the migrant workers at the beginning of the process.

Participants highlighted that implementing fair and responsible recruitment standards can be crucial at minimising discrimination and exploitation abetted at migrant workers from hiring process to working abroad.

Sarat Dash, chief of mission to Sri Lanka and the Maldives for International Organisation for Migration (IOM), stressed on the role of private sector entities and recruitment agencies in ensuring implementation of fair and responsible recruitment standards.

“Employer and multinational companies should be accountable for the fair recruitment process,” said Dash. “It doesn’t reflect well on business and enterprise as it is impacting the business reputation. The country of origin are also blacklisting such employers.”

Dash urged that implementing fair recruitment practices, which is envisaged in various conventions, is the responsibility of both the government agencies and corporate sectors.

Nepal had also introduced its unique ‘Free Visa: Free Ticket’ policy to reprieve its migrant workers of the heavy recruitment fees imposed by a nexus of manpower agencies and other sub-agents. However, the policy remains poorly enforced and workers are still compelled to pay exorbitant fees for jobs abroad.

“Nepal has its very organic version of fair recruitment which was enforced on June 8, 2015, as Free Visa Free Ticket policy. Since then the government has struggled in implementing the policy,” said Ganesh Gurung, executive chairperson of Policy Research Initiative and an expert on labour migration. “There is a complete mismatch between the policy and the reality on the ground. There are some companies which have been practising fair recruitment process for nearly 23 years now.”

Gurung said the implementation of fair recruitment practices is not only the responsibility of the labour supplying country but also of the destination countries.

Various abuses and exploitation of migrant workers through deception about the nature and conditions of work, document confiscation, illegal wage deductions, higher recruitment fees, working under unsafe and forced conditions are widespread across the world.

Reports of Nepali migrant workers facing such exploitations from the recruitment process to at work in the foreign countries are widely known.

“Most of these pre-departure orientation training is very generic and fail to provide the country-specific information,” said Mangahas. “Most of the workers do not have the information hence do not complain also fearing to lose their jobs. The only time they complain when they are either losing their jobs or are stranded.”

The declaration also talked about encouraging Countries of Origin (COOs), Countries of Transit (COT) and Countries of Destination (CODs) to put in place effective grievance mechanisms both at the state and non-State levels for providing effective access to justice and remedies to workers.

The Kathmandu Declaration urges source and destination countries to sign new labour agreements or amend the existing ones in line with the guiding principles and objectives of Global Compact on Migration to ensure respect for human rights in all stages of migration.

Participants also agreed to address the problems of discrimination and violence against women migrant workers such as trafficking and smuggling, physical and sexual abuse, and eliminate other forms of labour exploitations like denying basic wages, subjecting to slavery and servitude like conditions, substandard health, safety and security.

The conference also discussed the challenges of irregular migration which further results in human trafficking and forced labour.

“Unsafe and irregular migration has led to human trafficking incidents. There are cases of trafficking of Nepali girls who had gone on foreign employment,” said Mohna Ansari, commissioner of NHRC Nepal. “But such cases are treated merely as foreign employment-related fraud and deception cases. The state should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate trafficking and vigorously investigate and prosecute acts of trafficking."