ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 111 – 138 – 182
Despite some promising political developments, including democratic elections, trade union rights violations remain frequent. Two trade unionists were killed by the police.
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.
Members of the armed forces and the police are not allowed to form a union, however, and members of the management of private or public enterprises are not allowed to take part in union activities. Non-Nepalese can be members 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. Those rights had been revoked on 14 July 2005.
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.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008
Background: The national elections in April 2008 marked the beginning of a new era for Nepal, after a decade of conflict that cost the lives of at least 13,000 people. The Maoists won over 30% of the votes, followed by the Nepali Congress. One third of the new Congress members are women, a historic breakthrough. On 28 May, the monarchy was abolished and in August the Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dhal became Prime Minister. The new government has shown little interest in ending impunity for the numerous human rights violations committed during and after the civil war. Anarchy and the flouting of the law are obstacles to a good social climate.
Strikes: Some of the strikes held in 2008 had no direct link to workers' interests. Some were held by groups for political reasons and others by associations demanding various reforms not directly linked to the world of work. There was the strike, for example, by businessmen's associations calling for a better business climate and an end to the abduction of business people.
Killing of two trade unionists: Two trade union activists, Kebal Raut and Hare Ram Yadav, were killed and more than 50 workers injured by police on 29 August in an incident which occurred after workers from various factories in the Bara District had joined workers from the Narayani Rolling Mills factory in their action against the company management. The strike was called by the Nepal Independent Chemical and Iron Workers' Union (NICIWU), an affiliate of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), and was later joined by workers from other unions, including the Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent (NTUC-I). The workers had gone on strike to demand permanent jobs, payment of the minimum wage and the reinstatement of 21 dismissed workers. The dispute was ended when a tripartite agreement was reached on the payment of 1 million rupees to the families of the two workers killed, free and effective medical treatment for those injured and the reinstatement of the 21 dismissed workers.
Collective bargaining weak: Owing to a combination of worker inexperience, employer reluctance and barriers to strikes, there is little collective bargaining in practice. The large number of unions further reduces workers' weak bargaining power. Collective bargaining agreements only cover around ten% of workers in the formal economy.
Police violence against demonstrators: On 3 September, during a peaceful protest in Kathmandu, the police arrested 80 trade union leaders, including Santosh Rajyamajhi, General Secretary of the United Telecom Ltd (UTL) workers' trade union. The protest was in support of a union demand for an end to the system of temporary contracts for workers, for better working conditions and for the proper application of Nepal's labour and trade union laws. Violence was used by the police during the arrest and many of the workers were injured, some by bullets. The workers were detained at Mahendra police station and released in the evening.
GEFONT reports that workers employed by Navin Polimr industries in the Parsa district were beaten by police on 29 December. Three of them sustained serious injuries. The workers were taking part in a peaceful protest to demand that management apply an agreement and allow them to return to work (the factory doors had been padlocked by management since 25 November). Negotiations between the trade union representatives, management and the police foresee the application of the agreement in question and stiff sanctions against the police officers responsible for the violence.
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. GEFONT and its affiliates have reported several cases of attacks on its members by Maoist activists. On 2 January, seven GEFONT leaders were injured in a brutal attack by members of the Maoist All Nepal Federation of Trade Union (ANFTU). The leaders had come to talk to management at Pokhara Noodles Private Limited to ask for the reinstatement of 12 dismissed workers. Similar cases occurred at Trvinevi Textiles Weaving Unit in Bara (eight workers seriously injured during a strike to demand the payment of their salaries on time) and at Himalayan Snacks and Noodles in Banepa.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) reported that in defiance of a court injunction, an organisation affiliated to the Maoists sought to take control of in-house unions in two other media establishments: the Asia-Pacific Communications Associates (APCA) and the Kantipur group.
Attacks and threats against journalists: On 11 October, Krishna Prasad Dhakal, editor-in-chief of the weekly Kapilvastu Sandesh and advisor to the FNJ, received death threats from an armed group in the Terai region, the Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM). In 2008, three journalists were killed and one kidnapped, while dozens more were attacked, threatened or harassed. On 21 December, the offices of the Himalmedia were attacked and 12 employees injured. The following day a peaceful protest by the FNJ calling for press freedom was again attacked by, amongst others, police officers with batons. One of the FNJ's leaders, Ramji Dahal, was seriously injured.
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