KATHMANDU: The government is signing a labor agreement with Saudi Arabia within a month.
The two sides reached a consensus to sign the agreement during a meeting between the Minister for Labor, Employment, and Social Security, Sharat Singh Bhandari, and Ahmad bin Sulaiman Al-Rajhi, on the sidelines of the Abu Dhabi Dialogue on Monday.
Rajiv Pokharel, the spokesperson for the Minister for Labor, Employment, and Social Security, said Minister Bhandari requested his counterpart Al-Rajhi to sign the agreement. “The Saudi side assured the Nepali delegation that it would hold discussions on some points and sign the agreement,” Pokharel told Himal Press over the phone from Abu Dhabi.
Nepal has been preparing to sign a labor agreement with Saudi Arabia for the past eight years.
According to Pokharel, Nepal has insisted on incorporating a fair recruitment system in the agreement and also said that issues like social security for workers, working hours, insurance, and workplace health and security should be clearly addressed.
A large number of unskilled Nepali workers head to Saudi Arabia every year even though there is no agreement to safeguard their rights. Although the two countries have held several rounds of discussions to sign the agreement, consensus is eluding as Saudi officials are adamant about signing separate agreements for general workers and domestic workers.
In the meeting, Saudi Arabia agreed to continue its support for the production of skilled workers and foster cooperation to enhance the skills and capacity of Nepali workers.
“We requested Saudi officials to address issues like Iqama, or residence permit for workers in Saudi Arabia, and problems created by the kafala system. The Nepali side also drew the attention of the Saudi officials to facilitate the repatriation of bodies of Nepali workers who lost their lives in Saudi Arabia,” Pokharel added.
New labor agreement with Qatar on the cards
Nepal is also preparing to sign a new labor agreement with Qatar. The new agreement will replace the agreement that the two countries signed in 2003.
The understanding was reached during the meeting between Minister Bhandari and his Qatari counterpart Ali bin Samikh Al Marri in Abu Dhabi.
Pokharel said the agreement will be signed during the Nepal visit of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
Al Thani was scheduled to visit Nepal in October last year. But the visit was postponed. The new dates for the visit have not been finalized yet.
Qatar too wants to sign a separate agreement for domestic workers like Saudi Arabia. Nepal will discuss the matter at the government level first, Pokharel added.
According to Pokharel, the ministry was positive about addressing domestic workers in the new agreements to be signed with Qatar and Saudi Arabia.