Gokarna Bista is the current Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security under PM KP Oli led cabinet. He is a seasoned politician and Secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML). He previously served as Minister of Energy in 2011 under then Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal. B360 met up with Minister Bista and spoke to him about various challenges with labour and employment.
Will establishing foreign employment offices in Itahari, Janakpur and Butwal for issuing work permit to migrant workers help ease the process?
It is difficult for people, especially the youth, who opt for foreign employment because they have to come to Kathmandu from various places only for pre-approval. To make this process easy and simple, we have found out a simple way of taking pre-approval from all the seven states that include cities like Itahari, Pokhara, Butwal, Dhangadi and Surkhet. This decision was taken by the council of ministers.
Offices have been established in various places and infrastructural work is ongoing with services to start soon. Apart from the process of taking final approval, all the other works can be conducted from the states. There are still some difficulties in establishing this service because of the way it is presently run, but we are looking at ways to properly manage it.
When will Nepal stop promoting itself as a country which exports cheap labour?
The present government has announced to bring an end to the existing phenomenon where citizens of this country are bound to go to foreign countries for employment. Our first priority is internal employment, keeping the population of the country within the country and making them useful for its development. We are also looking at the labour market demands and producing skilled population in accordance.
We should be able to keep Nepali citizens – especially our youth – who are going abroad for foreign jobs inside the country and help them develop their work skills. If we are able to develop a skilled workforce, the nation would also accelerate its development.
The Prime Minister’s Employment Program is focused at the young population and providing them work opportunities in the country itself.
Because of some compulsions over the years, the youth have had to seek livelihood overseas. We are working to end this situation within the next five years.
We are also working on research to understand the types of skills required within the country in current times and for work overseas.
Despite being a remittance based economy, migrant labour are harassed and treated poorly at airports, countries where they are working, and are being manipulated by manpower agents and lack support from the government. What are your thoughts?
Remittance plays a crucial role in Nepal’s economy. We respect and thank the population who contributes in bringing remittance into the country. A huge portion of remittance which has entered the country has only been used for consumption of consumer goods so far. We want to promote the habit of savings among people. We are introducing programs so that remittance money is invested in the production sector and also to facilitate the creation of employment. We are developing mechanisms where the profit generated from remittance is reinvested in migrant workers. We are also working towards creating a respectable environment for them, be it while travelling, at the airport or their security at the place of work. Additionally, there are plans to help them build a self-sufficient and decent life.
Why has not the government been able to create better labour pacts with countries with high demand for Nepali manpower?
It is important to create an environment for skilled manpower. Nepal does not only send labour workforce, we also have people with high skill levels that work abroad or have developed it there. We need to use their knowledge, skills and techniques back home in Nepal. We want to develop protocols and relationships in such a way that the host country and Nepal both stand to benefit.
Why does the government not take a strong stand on Nepali manpower being inhumanely treated by their employers in host countries?
In maximum labour intensive destinations, labour rights established by the government are not being met. Taking reference from ILO and international labour laws, we are focusing on terms of service of manpower and MoU between countries. The rights of workers must be addressed for their security and welfare.
Do you think the government will be able to ensure the implementation of minimum wage across sectors?
We are trying to provide better living standards for all Nepalis. To ensure that the basic necessities of work force even at the bottom end of the ladder are met, certain wages have been fixed, and we hope and believe that all job providers will implement this decision. To monitor and ensure these conditions are met, we have made compulsory salary payment only through banks. Additionally, we have developed software that will automatically notify if a company pays lower wages than what has been standardised. We will take actions against companies that fail to pay the minimum wage.