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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nepal

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Nepal, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7928.html [accessed 22 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 28,200,000
Capital: Kathmandu
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 111 – 138 – 182

The restoration of democracy, thanks in part to a long trade union struggle, brought the removal of several major restrictions on freedom of association and collective bargaining rights that had been imposed under the government of King Gyanendra.

Trade union rights in law

An interim Constitution came into force in 2007. The trade union movement managed to get a clause included stating that labour rights are fundamental rights and that, as provided in law, workers have the right to join unions and to bargain collectively. In 2007 a verdict by the Supreme Court confirmed that the right to collective bargaining was not restricted to company unions but also applied to federations and confederations.

However, based on information sent to the ITUC by one of its affiliates, the Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC), members of the armed forces and the police are not allowed to form a union and members of the management of private or public enterprises are not allowed to take part in union activities. Non Nepalese can be a member of a union. However, only Nepalese nationals can be elected as trade union officials.

Forming trade unions: At enterprise level, the formation of a union requires 25 per cent of the workforce and a minimum of ten people. A maximum of four unions are allowed per enterprise. The collective bargaining agent should be determined via elections within the enterprise.

Trade union federations can be formed through the association of 50 company unions, or of 5,000 individuals working in enterprises of the same nature. This is a barrier high enough to be considered restrictive by international labour standards. A confederation requires ten federations to join together, of which six must be from the formal economy.

Rights recognised in the informal economy: An amendment to the Labour Act in 1999 brought the informal economy and agricultural sector under the scope of the law, although the thresholds are very high. In the informal economy, 500 people in similar work are required in order to create a federation, whilst in agriculture a minimum of 5,000 workers are needed, covering at least 20 districts and with at least 100 people from each district.

Government restores public servants' right to belong to unions: In 2007, the government adopted a Civil Service Act restoring the right of civil servants to join a union and to bargain collectively (on 14 July 2005, in a surprise move without consultation with workers or their representatives, the government had issued a Civil Service Ordinance revoking the rights of public servants to form and belong to unions of their own choosing).

The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association had decided that the reasons invoked by the Government for the banning of the Nepal Government Employee's Organisation did not justify the banning of activities of the organisation.

Strike restrictions: Although strikes are permitted, there are a series of restrictions. A strike can be held, but only after 30 days' notice and following a secret ballot of 60 per cent of the union's membership, an excessively high figure according to international standards. The government may stop a strike or suspend a trade union's activities if it disturbs the peace or is deemed to adversely affect the economic interests of the nation.

In addition, legislation denies the right to strike to employees providing essential services. In recent years, the government has used that legislation to ban strikes in many sectors, including banking, telecommunications, electricity, water supply, road, air and sea transport, the print industry, the government, press, and hotels and restaurants. This far exceeds the ILO definition of essential services. A worker in charge of security or surveillance teams in a company is not allowed to start a strike either.

Reform of labour law: In 2006 and 2007 the government began to reform the country's labour and industrial relations law, with technical support from the ILO and involvement of trade unions and employers' organisations. The underlying principles proposed by the ILO for the reforms were accepted by the Central Labour Advisory Committee, a tripartite body.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: After the general strike that led to the return of democracy in April 2006, a new transitional government was set up in early 2007. It was composed of representatives of the main political parties, including that of the former Maoist guerrilla movement. The armed conflict is said to have caused the death of over 13,000 people over the last 11 years, including many trade unionists. The Peace Treaty refers to the ILO and the need for a better industrial relations environment. Both the peace treaty and the interim Constitution adopted in January 2007 commit Nepal to respect the international labour standards on collective bargaining and workers' rights.

Strikes: Some of the strikes held in 2007 had no direct link to workers' interests. Some were held by unions for political reasons and others by associations demanding various reforms not directly linked to the world of work. That applies, for example, to the strike launched by businessmen's associations calling for a better business climate and an end to the abductions of business people. According to the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), an ITUC affiliate, employers called for national, general strikes in 2007 for more than 40 days, which was more than the unions' strike calls.

GEFONT also reported that in most cases a solution is found during the bipartite negotiations that can continue during the 30-day period to be observed between the vote for a strike and its start. And whilst both the authorities and employers have sought court injunctions to prevent workers from going on strike, GEFONT said the courts tend not to intervene in a strike when collective bargaining is in progress.

Collective bargaining weak: Owing to a combination of worker inexperience, employer reluctance and barriers to strikes there is, in practice, little collective bargaining. The large number of unions further reduces workers' weak bargaining power. Collective bargaining agreements only cover around ten per cent of workers in the formal economy.

Police violence against demonstrators: 350 workers from the Nepal Water Supply Corporation were dismissed without any explanation on 16 July. During the ensuing protests on 17 July, the police attacked and seriously injured 65 workers, including women and disabled persons. On 25 July, the police again used violence against the workers. A union affiliated to PSI, the Nepal Intercorporation Employees' Union, reported that its president had suffered several injuries including an ankle fractured in two places. Another member of the Executive Committee was also beaten up. The union stressed that the 350 had been sacked for taking part in protests against the privatisation of the water supply industry and involvement in the pro-democracy movement. An agreement between the corporation and the two unions that represent 95% of its workforce had been signed in February, according to which no workers would lose their jobs during the privatisation process.

Inter-union rivalry and violence: The rivalry between Nepalese unions sometimes leads to clashes between workers from different organisations. It seems this has grown since the union linked to the party of former Maoist guerrillas has gained in prominence.

The NTUC repeatedly denounced beatings, abductions and torturing of its members, accusing the Maoist All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions (ANFTU), the Young Communist League (YCL, which the NTUC describes as a sister organisation of the ANFTU) and regional or ethnic groups of being the perpetrators. The NTUC specifically reported the case of Jay Bahadur Yongen, General Secretary of the Nepal Carpet Workers Union, who was hospitalised for 15 days after being beaten up, the NTUC says, by the YCL and the ANFTU in Kathmandu. Several members of the Nepal Factory Labour Congress (NFLC, an affiliate of the NTUC) were also beaten up, including Shree Prashad Shah, Lalit Shrestha and Dev Bahadur Gurung. The house of the NFLC President, Dhirendra Kumar Singh, was bombed by unidentified attackers.

GEFONT also reported several brutal attacks on its members by members of the ANFTU and YCL. The victims included Nara Bahadur and Brishpati Parajuli, two leaders of its food sector affiliate, the Nepal Independent Food & Beverage Workers' Union (NIFBWU).

The NTUC also accuses the YCL and the Maoist union of irregularities during collective bargaining and/or union elections held in the luxury hotels Annapurna and Yak & Yeti, the Everest Casino and the Bishal Bazzar supermarket. During the trade union elections at the recognised Union of Hotel Annapurna, Maoist union members brutally attacked an election officer deputed from the Labour Office in Kathmandu as well as the leader of the GEFONT affiliated Nepal Independent Hotel Workers Union former President Mr. Madhav Neupane and others.

Union recognition refused: The NTUC denounced the sacking of 72 of its members by the Nepalese government as they were trying to register their union whilst working on the Koshi Chandragari Nagar irrigation project.

Labour court too slow: Nepal has a labour court for settling disputes between employers and workers, but it lacks resources and has a large backlog of cases. The unions complain that cases sometimes take several years to come before the court.

Few women workers organised: Organising of women workers is poor. Few women workers are aware of their union rights and most are stuck in low-skilled, poorly paid jobs.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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