‘Trade Unions contributed only Six Per cent of the Total Strikes’
December 31st, 2012

 Strikes were frequent between 2006 and 2008 but after 2008, the frequency of industrial strikes has gone down. If you follow the website www.nepalbanda.com, you will find that trade unions have contributed only six percent of the total bandhas in the last year while around 28 percent bandhas were called by employers and the rest was contributed by parties and other organizations. If you are confusing political strikes with trade unions’ strikes, it is a mistake. If counted, there are hardly three companies where unions called strikes namely Surya Nepal, Pizza Hut and Unilever up to now.

How many members are there in your union and how do you manage them?

There are more than 353,000 individual members in our union and 29 affiliates altogether. The affiliates recruit members on their own under our co-ordination and connect them with us but we do not subscribe direct membership. We have committees at the local and district levels. And at the entrepreneur level, they choose one male and female candidate each as our representatives. The committee of the registered union becomes our member in a national level. The affiliates are action oriented while the role of GEFONT is that of coordination.

Why are industrial strikes so recurrent in Nepal?

Strikes were frequent between 2006 and 2008 but after 2008, the frequency of industrial strikes has gone down. If you follow the website www.nepalbanda.com, you will find that trade unions have contributed only six percent of the total bandhas in the last year while around 28 percent bandhas were called by employers and the rest was contributed by parties and other organizations. If you are confusing political strikes with trade unions’ strikes, it is a mistake. If counted, there are hardly three companies where unions called strikes namely Surya Nepal, Pizza Hut and Unilever up to now.

Do you think the trade unions in Nepal are following the right approach in collective bargaining?

Since we do not call it collective bargaining across the board, I think the approach that we follow for collective bargaining is proper. We conduct bargaining at the central level committee for minimum standards like wage determination and finalize it there. Collective bargaining is for maximum standards and we do it according to the type of company in question. Multinational companies have high paying capacity so we demand more whereas we demand less from the less earning companies. Before getting into bargaining process, it is essential to find whether the company is in profit or not. There was a huge bargaining at local level when the Khimti Project was firing 89 workers. According to the law, it had to pay two per cent of the total earnings to the workers and the labors’ demand approach was correct.

Due to the violent strikes and vandalism, private sector employers in Nepal fear to hire Nepali workers. How do you view this?

Violent strikes are rare as far as I know. The strike against Surya Nepal is the only example that I can give for vandalism in the private sector. Apart from that, strikes are usually seen at the government service and public sector. Recently, there was a strike at Unilever in Hetauda for a week and the problem was solved immediately after the negotiations. If we go through case-by-case, we may find some cases that nurtured vandalism but in general, employees are not feared to hire Nepali workers. Moreover, I have heard that employees in Nepal are longing to hire Nepali workers but they are not finding any mainly because of the scarcity of the workers in Nepal.

What are the problems that the workers are facing in Nepali industries?

Firstly, at the policy level, the main problem that we are facing is the ineffectiveness of the rule of law. Even the industrialists are not providing minimum wages to the workers while the minimum wage is Rs 6,200 only. Unless there is a labor inspection system, we cannot find out whether the rule of law has been followed or not. Our law says that after 240 days of working, a worker is permanent at the company but there are many outsourced labors working for years and the jobs are mostly informal. Secondly, the problem of meager pay has been on the rise. High productivity of the workers can be seen only if they are paid adequately.

Besides, there is no social security in the companies. In any developed country, workers get pension after 20 years of service in a company but this social protection is rare in Nepali companies. More than Rs 200 million has been collected since the government has put one per cent tax on the companies for the social security of the workers. Accident insurance and medical insurance should be implemented but there are no schemes yet.

The employers here fear that if the workers are made permanent, there will be less productivity. They believe that the workers are more productive when they work in fear. If there were no problems in permanent and temporary jobs, there wouldn’t be strikes in most of the industries. Workers are often agitated because there is low salary, no job guarantee and no social protection.

Experts are saying that over unionization of labors has affected industries badly. What are your views on it?

Conflict results from the sour relationship between management and workers, not from unionization. It is true that there are more unions in in service sector companies while some companies that provide informal job opportunities do not have unions at all. Unions are not the problems in companies because they solve most problems of the employers. A union solves the problems of each and every worker in the company and in most organizations, union leaders maintain labor relations with the management. The number of the unions is not a problem for an employee or the employer as long as authenticity of the union or the members of the bargaining team selected by the workers themselves is maintained.

Intra-party/intra-union problems and power struggle are common among Nepali trade unions. You as the President of GEFONT may have realized that as well. What do you think could be the solution?

Historically, there has always been a relation between Nepali political parties and trade unions. But it should be noted that Nepali trade unions are formed according to the law. Whether there is one or more than 20 unions in an organization, the employees should acknowledge that there should be a national election for an authentic union. For example, if there are four unions in an organization, the bargaining panel will be formed according to the votes in the election regardless of who the ruler of the union is. It’s only then that the multiplicity of the unions can be managed easily. Problems occur from the employers’ side too because their behavior changes according to the relationship with the union.

 

As the trade unions in Nepal are affiliated to one or the other political party, they seem busy in politics than in promoting workers’ interests. How can this be resolved?

Unions alone are not affiliated to political parties, employers too are affiliated and involved with the parties. In a multi-party system, affiliation to political parties is common and ideologically, it is correct too.

From the perspective of the laborers, we are purely representing the laborers inside the companies. We are not indulging in any politics, however, our people are affiliated with different political parties.

Labor disputes and shutdown of the industries are perceived as a threat to the investors venturing into new businesses in Nepal. How is your union going about it?

Had you gone through the document called ‘Doing Business’, you would find that the labor disputes are in the sixth number among other problems. Companies making high investments in Sunsari- Biratnagar corridor are demanding more labors. The report by World Bank has also put labor problems in seventh among others whereas the number one problem is government’s legal hassles and number two is the problem of taxation. No investor has withdrawn his investment because of the unions or the workers. Recently, we organized the third Labor and Employment Conference in Kathmandu where we jointly made a 15-points declaration regarding the welfare of the workers. We We shared that we do not have anything against the employers; rather, we had a common view that we lacked a proper government bureaucracy. Unions are often dragged between the ineffective government and the political parties which is not right. Investors say labour law is not good in Nepal but they have never blamed workers or the unions for being unfriendly towards investments.

BISHNU RIMAL
President
GEFONT

Labour Dilemma / Nov 2, 2012

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An open Letter to the Top Political leaders
December 28th, 2012

We are worried that whether we are also being pushed towards the ‘journey of failed state?!’ Nepalis, struggling on the lap of Himalaya, used to be shocked even to hear the news of misunderstanding among the struggling forces in Middle East, Afghanistan or African countries a few years ago. We used to criticise them. May be, the whole world that was appreciating our success behind 2006 movement seems to be shocked at present and criticising us, “What a hell the Nepali leaders are! They have spoiled a beautiful country!’

Download PDF file >>An open Letter to the Top Political leaders