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Fair recruitment benefits Nepali workers in Jordan garment industry

An ILO led initiative that promotes fair recruitment in Nepal, is proving fair recruitment is attainable, achievable and accessible to all.

Feature | Katmandu, Nepal | 09 June 2021
KATHMANDU, Nepal (ILO news) - “No recruitment fees!” says Pratibha Tamang, excitedly. “I couldn’t believe that we could work abroad without paying anything to the recruitment agency”.

In January 2017, 20 year-old Ms Tamang left her home in Nuwakot, a remote hilly town in central Nepal, along with 159 other migrants to work in Jordan’s garment industry as a machine operator.

"My family was doubtful that workers would be treated well even without paying anything to the recruiters. It was only after the agency’s orientation and training that we were convinced they were telling us the truth,” recalls Ms Tamang.

With over 4.2 million labour permits issued since 2009 and remittances equivalent to 28 per cent of the country’s GDP in 2018/19, migration for foreign employment has long been a major source of income for many Nepali households.

Group Photo: “The first batch workers from ILO’s pilot programme in Jordan”  ©ILO
Intermediaries play a central role in this process. In Nepal, a recent World Bank survey of 2,000 households revealed that 94.2 per cent of migrants had used either an agent or a private recruiting agency as a channel to migrate. In a country full of agencies that charge substantial sums to migrant workers without guaranteeing their safety or decent working conditions, it was understandable that Ms Tamang and her family were sceptical about the concept of fair recruitment. 

In 2015, ILO launched an Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment in Nepal funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. As part of the programme, a pilot initiative took place to ensure the rights and reduce costs for migrants from Nepal wishing to work in Jordan’s garment sector.

Sushila Rai comes from Bhojpur district in eastern Nepal and, was also part of the group heading to Jordan with Ms Tamang. Before Jordan, she had worked in Malaysia. 

Sushila Rai in pre-departure training
Going to Jordan was so much easier than when I went to Malaysia. I didn’t pay a rupee to go to Jordan whereas I had to pay 95,000 Nepali Rupees (approx. US$815) for Malaysia.In Jordan, our salary was paid on time, and as per the agreement, they provided food and accommodation too. I made enough money to support my family of seven. I am the oldest amongst five siblings, and my parents were old and couldn’t work. Therefore I had to migrate for work,” says Ms Rai. Both Ms Tamang and Ms Rai returned to Nepal in 2020 after spending four years in Jordan.

As the company paid the employees even when they could not work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workers were still able to send money back home.

“With the money I earned, along with supporting my family, I paid all our previous loans and helped built our house which was destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. It makes me really happy that I was able to help my parents,” says Ms Tamang.

As recruitment is the starting point of the labour migration journey, ILO and its partners are committed to protecting labour rights and promoting safe and fair conditions for workers.

“Fair recruitment is essential to ensure that the rights of workers are ensured throughout their migration cycle.  While many tend to confuse it with the free-visa, free-ticket policy, it is important to understand that it subsumes various elements such as ensuring workers’ rights to accurate information, access to justice, freedom of mobility, and freedom from deception and coercion, access to decent work - all of which go beyond limiting the concept of fair recruitment to recruitment fees,” says Neha Choudhary, National Project Coordinator, the ILO Nepal’s Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment.

The programme collaborated with private employment agencies with a track record of fair recruitment practices. However, the fair recruitment model has taken time to gain trust among migrant workers.

“Authenticity of the fair recruitment process was questioned in the beginning. We hired outreach officers to reach interested workers and the turning point came when they saw our first batch of migrants who reached Jordan safely. It was through word of mouth that the workers believed in us and it became easier to recruit them,” explains Nitya Bharati, Project Manager at FSI Worldwide Nepal, one of the agencies taking part in the initiative.  

The programme also partnered with the HELVETAS Swiss Inter-cooperation Nepal's Safe Migration project to provide a comprehensive skills’ training programme to workers migrating to work in the Jordanian garment sector under the pilot.

Tufts University carried out an impact assessment of the pilot between April 2017 and November 2018. As the ILO’s first impact assessment of a fair recruitment initiative, the research showcased the benefits of fair recruitment practices for both workers and employers, and builds evidence to further promote change in recruitment practices globally.

Having seen the process from its inception phase, Ms Bharati has also been witness to workers’ transformation over the years, “It’s amazing to see the impact of right information on migrant workers. From their pre-departure training to when they return home, we can see a vast difference in their personality. They are more open, interactive, and yes, empowered.”

The ILO has developed General Principles and Operational Guidelines for Fair Recruitment and the Definition of Recruitment Fees and Related Costs that inform the current and future work of the ILO and of other organizations, national legislatures, and the social partners on promoting and ensuring fair recruitment.

For more information, please contact:

Neha Choudhary
National Project Coordinator, Integrated Programme on Fair Recruitment