Sanu Maya Gurung is a cheerful 20-year-old. She left her home village last year to work in Hong Kong as a domestic worker. She was full of excitement and hope, presuming the workload would be light and she could send money home to her family in Nepal.
Sanumaya's spontaneity and cheerfulness became the very traits that made her lose her job. Her mistress accused Sanu Maya of having a relationship with her husband and sacked her. She is now back in Nepal, her dreams shattered.
Nepalis working overseas are not prepared with minimal skills-training and orientation before they leave and often face exploitation, harassment and culture shock. They are often left to fend for themselves and, without proper training, end up getting the least-paying jobs.
Sanu Maya was lucky, she only got fired. Many others are physically abused, or have to endure mistreatment from family members they work for. Labour laws in Hong Kong are stricter than elsewhere, so Nepalis working there have more safeguards than in the Gulf. Still, most women are homesick and unfamiliar with the language and household implements. When there is abuse, the women don't know who to turn to.
After Hong Kong, Israel is emerging as the next big market for Nepali maids. The Labour Department says 77,000 Nepalis went abroad to work so far this year, and 733 of them were women. But the government doesn't keep count of the thousands of other women who travel overland to India and fly out from there. Official figures show 417 of the women landed up in Hong Kong, 112 in Israel, 63 in Korea and 50 in the UAE.
Prem Chandra Rai is president of the Far East Overseas Nepali Association (FEONA) and says women coming to Hong Kong to work should be given language training, orientation and skills training before they leave. This would not only enhance their earnings, but also make it easier for them to cope with alien surroundings.
Nepali women in Hong Kong get the jobs not taken by Filipino, Thai or Indonesian maids because they are regarded as relatively less skilled. Still, a Nepali maid can earn Rs 30,000 a month. Hong Kong has an estimated 250,000 domestic workers from these countries and about 1,400 of them are Nepalis.
"Despite legal protection, most Nepalis are duped because of the language barrier, lack of experience and ignorance of the lifestyle prevailing here," says Rai. Many unsuspecting Nepali women sign papers given to them by middlemen without agreeing on a salary figure and get cheated.
The government has made training mandatory for Nepalis going abroad to work and since the law went into effect, more than 80 'training centres' have opened in Kathmandu alone. But Nirmal Gurung, president of Nepal Foreign Employment Business Association, says there aren't enough centres to meet the demand and the quality of instruction leaves a lot to be desired.
According to the Foreign Employment Act 2042 and Code of Regulations (amended) 2053, the syllabus of the pre-departure training course should include social, economic, religious and cultural information of the country they are going to. Language and other related subjects should also be incorporated. Information on type of work the employees have to perform, whether or not it is as per contract, immigration formalities and the process of sending money home also need to be included. Most courses don't address these issues.
Janaki Ballabh Adhikari of the Foreign Employment Promotion Department agrees that there needs be a specialised curriculum for women workers. "We need to draw up new content on protection against sexual assault, harassment and family planning methods," he says.
The government has fixed a fee of Rs 700 for the mandatory two-day course, but many manpower agencies charge the fee and never give the training, especially to women workers. Manpower companies are actually not allowed to open training centres at all, but this rule is violated. The result is that many Nepali men and women are going abroad, not fully prepared to face the uncertainties of working far away from home. (Sancharika Samuha)