An Overview on Overseas Employment in Nepal

In the past, the Government of Nepal has adopted no specific policies to deal with foreign employment. In the 1740’s, the process of unifying Nepal provoked large scale foreign migrations. Unification brought hardship to peasants and the poor in the form of corvee labour, over taxation, and exploitation from state agencies and their functionaries. As a consequence mass numbers of people migrated to India, where newly established tea states and the opening of land in Assam, Sikkim and Nagaland had made work available. While British rule in India was encouraging such immigrations, the Government of Nepal faced a shortage of labour and initially attempted to discourage labourers from seeking work abroad.

The history of formal labour administration in Nepal is about 70 years old. Its origin can be traced to the start of organised industry in the 1930’s, but national structures took form only after the outbreak of the 1947 labour movement in Biratnagar. With the installation of a democratic government in 1951, the labour administration underwent a process of reform to cope with increasing labour problems and to undertake labour welfare measures. The establishment of regional labour offices in the 1960s began with the creation of the first labour office at Biratnagar under the Department of Industry. A Department of Labour was established in 1971, followed in 1981 by a Ministry of Labour.

As political relations with the British government in India changed, the Nepali government began to encourage large numbers of Nepalese to migrate for work in what was then the British-Indian army. By World War II, around 20% of Nepal’s economically active males were employed by the British Indian army. Their employment brought the Nepali administration tremendous material benefits and was highly organised and well managed. The process was regulated by bilateral agreements between the respective governments, and did not require any specific policy framework in Nepal. Until the 1980s, labour migrations mainly took people to India where work permits and passports were/are not required. In this context, regulations to control and manage foreign employment were deemed unnecessary. In the mid 1980’s, however, Nepali citizens began to seek work in the Gulf countries and the government of Nepal took steps to formulate foreign labour related regulations. The Ministry of Labour is the apex body in labour administration and mainly functions at the policy level. It operates under the general guidance of the Minister and the direct supervision of the secretary, who also acts as the principal executive authority of the ministry. This Ministry is responsible to formulate policies and programs for promotion, control and management of domestic and foreign labour employment. Nepal’s constitution incorporates several provisions concerning labour matters, which form the foundation of labour administration in the country. These include the prohibition of slavery and forced labour; freedoms of assembly, association and speech; freedoms of trade, business, and profession; the promotion of social justice, the economic well-being of the people and the eradication of social evils. All national legislation, including that related to foreign employment, is based on the constitution. At present labour related issues are dealt with by Labour Act, 2048 (1992) and Foreign Employment Act, 2042 (1987). The Foreign Employment Act has been revised twice; most recently in 1997. The aim of the Act is to regulate foreign employment, especially in the Gulf countries, and to this end it fixes minimum wages and other conditions of work. In addition, Nepal has ratified several labour conventions.