MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Economists say that aside from facilitating paperwork for overseas workers and protecting them from exploitation, there should be an urgent campaign to upgrade their income by giving skills training before they go.
Simple vocational training could easily double or triple the annual Rs 102 billion Nepalis sent home last year from overseas. Because of the growing number of workers, this figure is expected to reach Rs 135 billion next year.
Most Nepali migrant workers are unskilled, and they do the most menial work in restaurants, department stores and plantations for $ 125 a month. A semi-skilled labourer is paid twice as much as unskilled labour and a skilled worker can earn up to 10 times higher salary.
Skilled workers also get better treatment at work, they enjoy more safety, security facilities and health insurance. But above all, they can live with dignity in an alien land.
"Neither recruiter nor employer can ever cheat a skilled worker who has been trained and knows his rights," says Dawadi. Most untrained Nepalis are either cheated by their recruiters who promise salaries that aren't honoured, or often abandoned on arrival at the airport in the Gulf or Malaysia.
The government has announced strict punishment for rogue recruiters, but that doesn't seem to deter them. Dawadi says incidents of cheating could go down dramatically if the government makes vocational training or technical education mandatory.
A proposed National Skill Testing Board will certify vocational and technical education because existing training documents can be easily forged. The Professional and Vocational Skill Development Directorate runs the training programs in 48 districts, the Department of Cottage and Small Industry gives the training in 27 districts, the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training has 18 schools of its own and there are 500 private training institutions which target high school dropouts and the illiterate.
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On average, out of 100 students enrolled in Class One, only eight students pass SLC, 15 make it to Grade 10, and 85 drop out of school. Says Dawadi: "Education should get 25 percent of the national budget and of that one-third of the money must go to technical and vocational education."
Vocational training would not just benefit workers going abroad, but also give Nepalis jobs in Nepal. Nara Bahadur Thapa, director at Nepal Rastra Bank, says Nepal shouldn't depend too much on remittances since overseas jobs could easily dry up if there is instability in the Gulf. "It is not a long-term solution," he says, "We don't have control over external situation, so vocational education should primarily be targeted at the domestic job market with a coordinated employment generation campaign in agriculture, finance, infrastructure and manufacturing."