High airfare, seat crunch hit migrant workers

  • Government officials suspect ‘artificial’ airline seat shortage, launch probe


Foreign employment agencies are having a hard time to send migrant workers to major labour destinations amid air seat crunch and increased airfares. And, the problem is likely to continue for at least a month, according to airlines.

Air seat crunch is being witnessed in destinations like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates — the major recipients of Nepali migrant workers.

Travel agents claim there has been a shortage of around 19 flights per week to major labour destinations after carriers like Gulf Air and Bahrain Air suspended Nepal flights. But senior government officials have suspected “artificial shortage to hike airfares”.

Foreign employment agencies said Nepali migrant workers are being unable to get tickets even if they are ready to pay the increased fare. The situation is such that some of the workers had their visa expired awaiting the availability of air tickets, they said.

Recruiting agencies, who were paying Rs 22,000 one-way airfare to GCC destinations on an average a month ago, are now compelled to pay up to Rs 49,000.

“I booked a Kathmandu-Riyadh air ticket at Rs 32,000 for my client for the next month, but people are not getting tickets even if they are ready to pay up to Rs 50,000,” said Bal Bahadur Tamang, chairman of Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA). “Over 500 workers who have been issued visa through my company are awaiting flight for the last few weeks.”

According to NAFEA, almost all carriers serving GCC countries — Oman Air, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia, Fly Dubai and Jet Airways — have jacked up their fares.

People are compelled to pay up to Rs 50,000 to reach a certain destination, to where they can reach for Rs 20,000 if they take New Delhi route, according to government officials.

Sensing possible irregularities as the crisis deepened, stakeholders from the Labour Ministry, the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE), the Civil Aviation Authority Nepal (CAAN), NAFEA and travel agencies have been holding discussions for the last three days.

“Foreign airlines or their local general sales agents (GSA) have created an artificial seat shortage and hiked the airfares,” said a CAAN source. After the DoFE complained about the “artificial airfare hike”, the Tourism Ministry summoned country managers of all airlines on Tuesday.

However, the airlines refuted the allegation during the meeting and said the fare is determined by the demand and supply situation.

The government has decided to investigate the airfare structure. “The bilateral Air Service Agreement has provisioned that airlines have to furnish the basis of the hike in airfares when asked by the regulator under the ‘tariff Article’,” said Suresh Acharya, joint-secretary at the ministry.

“Therefore, we have directed the CAAN to ask all the airlines to file their tariff structure,” he said, adding if any irregularities are found during the evaluation, the government will penalise those involved.

NAFEA has issued an ultimatum to the government to resolve the crisis by Wednesday and warned of taking migrant workers through India and Bangladesh if the government failed to do so. “The Foreign Employment Act allows us to take workers through third country routes in the event of air seat crunch,” said Tamang. DoFE Director General Binod KC said the government will not allow manpower companies to take the workers via India as traffickers may misuse the concession if given.

Meanwhile, recruiting agencies have also hiked recruitment charge to be collected from workers in the wake of the hike in airfares.

Posted on: 2013-05-22 09:06