The new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Nepal and Malaysia which is currently on the anvil promises justice for hundreds of Nepali families who have over the years lost their loved ones on Malaysian soil. The current MoU provides life insurance coverage for only those migrant workers who lose their lives on the job. But of the average annual death of 50 Nepali workers in Malaysia, only a small fraction constitutes deaths at work, while deaths due to other causes (although heart attacks and suicides, in most cases, are related to excess work stress) are far higher. Similarly, more than 3,000 Nepalis have died in Saudi Arabia since 2000, mainly owing to alcohol consumption and excessive heat.
According to a recent government study, of the 1,357 Nepali migrant workers who lost their lives working abroad in the last three years, just 102 died at work, with 299 more perishing of natural causes and 185 from road accidents. It would be wonderful if adequate compensations can be provided to all bereaved families. But at issue here is much more than financial help, for as the Foreign Employment Board report pointed out earlier this year, most of these deaths could have been prevented. For instance, almost all road accident deaths in Malaysia can be attributed to the ignorance of even basic knowledge of traffic rules of host countries. Besides greater awareness of local traffic rules, orientation programs on workplace safety and climatic conditions, the same report points out, could have saved another hundreds of lives.
We believe even a small intervention on the part of Nepali government could potentially save hundreds of lives and do better justice to the loved ones of those who lost their lives toiling in foreign lands. One of the ways is to lobby for similar provisions in other top labor destinations for Nepalis working in the Gulf. But there also needs to be greater effort to bring the vast majority of Nepalis leaving through informal networks into the formal channel, which will help the government keep a more accurate account of Nepalis working abroad and help them in need. Unless there are reliable data on the status of Nepalis abroad, it will be difficult for the government to lobby on their behalf.
If pre-departure orientation and training are so vital, there is a strong case for making such programs mandatory for all departing workers. Equally important would be to tailor the programs according to the needs of individual labor-recipient countries (the working and climate conditions in Saudi Arabia, for instance, are vastly different from the conditions in Malaysia). The government counseling agency, Migration Resource Centre (MRC), which provides such pre-departure orientation and training, seems helpless as only a handful of the departing manpower ever come to seek its help. It is sad that even when there is so little ambiguity on what needs to be done to save more Nepali lives, such efforts are still marked by their absence