DUBAI // The Nepalese government is considering lifting a ban on its citizens working as housemaids in GCC countries, as well as raising the minimum wage acceptable for those taking jobs in the UAE. Nepal's minister for labour and transport management, Mohammad Aftab Alam, held talks in Abu Dhabi last week with the UAE Minister for Labour, Saqr Gobash, and the Minister of Foreign Trade, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi.
The key topics of discussion were labour issues such as wages, the image of Nepalese expatriates and jobs as housemaids for Nepalese women, Mr Alam told The National yesterday. "Presently Nepal faces a challenge of unemployment and the government is keen to improve the economy. We were assured all co-operation from the UAE Government. We will now prepare a detailed study on which sectors the two nations could co-operate," Mr Alam said.
With high unemployment and a weak economy following years of civil strife, Nepal relies heavily on the millions of dollars remitted by expatriate Nepalis around the world. According to Arjun Bahadur Thapa, Nepal's ambassador to the UAE, there are around 126,000 Nepalis living in the Emirates, and a total of 1.6 million in the Middle East. A large number of the Nepalis in the UAE are employed as construction workers, while some work as security guards or in the hospitality industry, and others have businesses here.
Mr Alam said the Nepalese government was making several efforts to increase employment opportunities and improve working conditions for Nepalis in the UAE, including raising the minimum acceptable wage it set last year. "Nepali worker wages are set at Dh600 (US$163) by our government. However, we see that workers from other nations are taken at higher wages than workers from Nepal. This issue was raised by me in discussion with the ministers and we hope it would be resolved soon," he said.
The minister said the government also planned to lift the ban on Nepalese women working as housemaids in GCC countries, saying that maids were still being hired illegally and that removing the ban could help regulate the process and even lead to the offenders being caught. "If we open the market, action can be taken against agents. I will submit a detailed report about this to the government after I return and we would take a decision on this matter soon," he said.
Mr Alam promised action against recruitment agents who made false promises to construction workers. "Agents violating laws are an issue for the government and we are studying how to counter them. We intend to bring them under the laws of Nepal and strict legal action would be taken against the offenders," he said. "The Nepalese workers are disciplined, good and hardworking, which is why their numbers in the UAE are increasing," he said, adding that the government was setting up programmes to train workers so that they could get employment in skilled and semi-skilled jobs.
On his first visit to the Emirates, Mr Alam also participated in the third Middle East Conference of the Non-Resident Nepali Association, held in Dubai at the weekend, which discussed issues facing the community in the region and around the world. Nepalese expatriates welcomed the government's efforts but said recruitment of housemaids should be allowed only after taking measures for their protection and providing facilities such as shelters for those facing problems..
The non-resident Nepalis also urged their government to try to improve the status of their community. "The image of the green passport that we hold has to be improved by the government. This is a major demand of the expatriate community," said Upendra Mahatoi, the founder of the Non-Resident Nepali Association. firstname.lastname@example.org