The government has scrapped the operating licences of 35 out of 225 health institutions, for their involvement in issuing medical certificates to migrant workers, after they failed to deposit the required guarantee amount.
The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security published a list of the 35 agencies that could not furnish the guarantee amount to the Department of Foreign Employment within the stipulated time. Their licences were scrapped as decided by the Cabinet last week.
As per the decision, these agencies did not deposit the new guarantee amount, set by the fifth amendment to the Foreign Employment Act, nor did they submit satisfactory clarification for not doing so.
The guarantee amount for new health institutions had increased to Rs 500,000 from the previous amount of Rs 300,000. Those agencies, which had already registered with the Labour Ministry, had to deposit the remaining Rs 200,000 for renewal of their licences.
“The Labour Ministry might have cancelled the licence of these agencies for not depositing the amount within the time,” said Sitaram Regmi, president of Nepal Medical Occupational Organisation—the umbrella organisation of health facilities that issue medical fitness reports to migrant workers.
“Our main concern has been why there should be a mandatory guarantee amount on health agencies at all. Guarantee amount for recruiting agencies which collect money from workers is understandable, but why should the government ask agencies that provide a medical report to deposit such amounts?”
Through the fifth amendment to the Foreign Employment Act (2007), the government in March last year increased the guarantee amount for recruiting agencies, pre-departure orientation training centres as well as health institutions. Unable to produce the new guarantee amount, the number of foreign employment recruiting agencies had come down to 853 from over 1,300.
However, since then, all these agencies have been protesting against the hiked amount. Their dissatisfaction, once again, came to the fore when the government asked these agencies to renew their operating licences before the end of last fiscal year.
“These agencies have already invested millions of rupees in buying health equipment. Since the government decided to hike the guarantee amount, we had reached out to all concerned agencies, to no avail,” said Regmi.
“As many as ten companies could not renew their licences even after depositing the required amount because of other procedural hassles while depositing renewal fees. But these issues were not considered by the Labour Ministry.”
Of the 225 health institutions across the country which examine health and give fitness reports to migrant workers, 160 are associated with the Nepal Medical Occupational Organisation.
As the foreign employment sector bears the brunt of Covid-19 pandemic, with the services shut down for months, these health institutions also suffered massive losses.
According to Regmi, these agencies provide medical fitness reports to around 1,500 migrant workers every day at normal times. But months of lockdown and closure of labour migration meant no business for these agencies.
“The government has no sympathy and concern for the stakeholders of foreign employment which have experienced financial losses. Health agencies are unable even to pay their rent while expensive equipment are rusting away because they have been out of operation for months,” said Regmi.
“Instead of providing relief for businesses affected by Covid-19, the government has rather scrapped the permits. Who would do this during such difficult times?”