ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
The legislation is not respected, preventing the existence of effective social dialogue. Some independent trade unionists were the victims of attacks by Maoist militants, while others were threatened or dismissed.
Trade union rights in law
Although basic trade union rights are guaranteed, excessive restrictions apply. The right to freedom of association is established in both the interim Constitution of 2007 and the Labour Act, but non-nationals may not be elected as trade union officials. The thresholds for union formation as well as for the creation of federations and confederations are excessively high, and a maximum of four unions are allowed per enterprise. Workers, including civil servants, have the right to join a union and to bargain collectively, and the latter right has also been extended to federations and confederations. However, the right to strike is limited, and the government may stop a strike or suspend a trade union's activities if the strike disturbs the peace or is deemed to adversely affect the interests of the nation. Also, to call a strike, 60% of the union's membership must agree on the action in a secret ballot, and the union must announce the strike at least 30 days in advance. Strikes are banned for workers in charge of security or surveillance teams in a company and for workers in "essential services", which are broadly defined to include sectors such as banking and hotels.
Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009
Background: The resignation of Prime Minister and former Maoist rebel leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal on 4 May triggered fresh tension and political instability. A new Prime Minister, Madhav Kumar Nepal, head of the Communist Party of Nepal – United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), a centre-left alliance, has led a coalition government boycotted by the Maoists since the end of May. Maoists hold 40% of seats in the parliament. The government is weakened by the Maoists capacity to mobilise large numbers of former rebels and has not been able to make progress on economic development or the drafting of a new Constitution. Like its predecessor, this new government has not put an end to impunity for the numerous human rights violations committed during and after the civil war.
Ratification of Convention 87 on the horizon?: In July pressure from the trade union movement and the ILO led to commitments from prominent Nepalese political figures in favour of the ratification of ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise. By the end of 2009 however, Nepal had still not ratified this international standard.
Collective bargaining weak: Owing to a combination of worker inexperience, employer reluctance and barriers to strike action, there is little collective bargaining in practice. The large number of unions further reduces workers' weak bargaining power. Collective bargaining agreements only cover a very small percentage of workers in the formal economy.
Trade unions set up joint platform despite tensions: Despite attacks on their members at the hands of the Maoist All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions (ANFTU), the democratic trade unions, including the Nepal Trade Union Congress – Independent (NTUC-I) and General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) decided to hold talks with them in order to reach a consensus on progressive reform of labour legislation. An inter-union Coordination Council was set up, a joint platform of the representatives of seven trade unions, one of whose key tasks is to reduce acts of violence.
Seven trade union leaders released on bail: The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) reported that in April the management of the "Women Uplift Center – Mahila Utthan Center" tried to fire the union's new leader, after dismissing two other union leaders in 2008. (A complaint concerning these two dismissals is still being examined). According to GEFONT, management also hired thugs to damage office equipment, then accused the trade union of being responsible for the damage. Four trade union leaders were arrested and three others had to report to the police station. They were all released on bail. Faced with continued protests outside the centre, management finally agreed to reinstate all the dismissed workers and to recognise the union. A new collective agreement was signed. The complaint concerning the destruction of office equipment is still being dealt with however.
Beijing Hotel uses extreme violence against its workers: According to the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), shortly after their union was registered, workers at the Beijing Hotel (Thamel district, Katmandou) submitted a list of demands to management, in June. The latter refused to consider the demands and promptly dismissed 35 people. When the workers began a strike picket outside the hotel, management responded by violently attacking them with knives, sticks, stones and beer bottles. Many workers and union leaders were seriously injured.
22 hospital workers reinstated further to pressure from German donors: In June, 22 workers were dismissed by the Sushma Koirala Memorial hospital after registering their union. According to the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), all the workers at the hospital were on fixed-term contracts. Initially the hospital management claimed it was simply a question of the non-renewability of contracts. However, given that non-unionised workers had had their contracts renewed, GEFONT believed it was an act of anti-union discrimination and contacted the German donors who support the hospital. The donors obliged management to rehire the dismissed workers. The union was later recognised.
Attacks on democratic trade union activists: In March, TP Khanal, assistant general secretary of the Nepal Trade Union Congress – Independent (NTUC-I) and Krishna Pandey, one of the leaders of the Nepal Tourism, Hotel, Casino and Restaurant Workers' Union (NTHCWRU) and the union leader at a Katmandou casino, were beaten up by members of the Maoist union. TP Khanal's injuries were so severe that he had to spend two weeks in hospital. The NTUC-I has reported other cases of trade union activists being attacked and threatened in the embroidery industry and among other member unions such as the Nepal Factory Labour Union and the Nepal National Security Guards' Union.
NTUC-I members threatened: In December, Rajendra Khadka, the representative of the Nepal Tourism, Hotel, Casino and Restaurant Workers' Union (NTHCWRU), affiliated to the Nepal Trade Union Congress – Independent (NTUC-I), at the Hyatt Hotel, was threatened by Maoist activists who ordered him to stop his trade union activity or face physical reprisals and pressure to get him sacked.
The NTUC-I also reported the abduction, for one day, of Binod Kumar Karna, general secretary of its affiliated organisation in the textile industry, the Nepal Garment Workers' Union (NGWU) and Nabin Singh, a member of the union. They were threatened there would be further consequences if they continued their activities in support of the NTUC-I.
NTUC-I general secretary sacked: Achuta Raj Pandey, general secretary of the Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent (NTUC-I), was dismissed by the Soaltee hotel for irregular attendance at the workplace, despite being granted unpaid leave further to his appointment by the government as a member of the Constituent Assembly.
Birjung National Medical College dismisses at least three trade unionists: Faced with the Labour Ministry's refusal to register the workers' union of the National Medical College of Birjung (affiliated to the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions – GEFONT), the union's members carried out protest action. Several of the union's members including three of its leaders were dismissed as a result.
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