Social security for workers and flexibility in hiring and firing workers are central in employer-trade union disputes recent years. However, both the sides have acknowledged each other"s concern in recent years which has created an environment for frequent dialogues between labor unions and employers.
“Though employers and employees have their own interests and concerns, we have been able to gradually create an environment for talks,” Bishnu Rimal, president of General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GFONT), said.
At a time when labor force is still not institutionalized and vulnerable to exploitations, labor unions are pressing for social security for workers in a unified manner.
“Though we have political differences, we have initiated the process of raising trade union agenda effectively by forming Joint Trade Union Coordination Committee (JTUCC) as umbrella forum of major trade unions,” said Rimal.
Even employers are showing interest to resolve the problems through dialogues rather than resorting to suppress the labor movement as practiced few years back. “It shows that industrial relation is improving. Workers and employers, however, need to get rid of their traditional ways of thinking,” added Rimal.
Suraj Vaidya, president of Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) also said labor relations are improving. “Though some positive signals are seen in our context in the improvement of labor relation, we have to be serious about the complication cropping up in the path of establishing stable and reliable labor relation due to lack of amicable solutions of labor disputes, which are taking place time to time,” Vaidya said in a statement issued on the occasion of 124th May Day which is being celebrated on Wednesday. He also said employees" rights should be ensured keeping in view the country"s economic condition and industrial situation.
“We are effortful to work with trade unions to resolve the existing problems and challenges facing the economy and industrial sector,” said Vaidya.
Labor problems are more complicated in small enterprises rather than the big ones. “Talks between management and workers of small companies are very rare unlike the big companies. So, we are trying to establish good industrial relation in all kinds of enterprises,” Salikram Jammakatel, president of All Nepal Trade Union Federation, told Republica.
Labor unions are concerned about the difficulties in forming trade unions in small enterprises though existing Labor Act allows workers to form union for collective bargaining.
Jamkattel also said trade unions are for implementing trade union rights at any enterprises level, representation of trade unions in at least 10 percent of Constituent Assembly (CA) seats, and reasonable review of remuneration after two years.
As tripartite talks between trade unions, employers and the government are in progress, trade union leaders are lobbying for monthly salary of at least Rs 12,400 and daily wage of Rs 650 keeping in view rising cost of living with double digit inflation. “Our notion is that workers" rise in remuneration should be in line with the inflation rate,” said Jammakattel.
Jammakattel, however, refused outright the employer"s call for hire and fire policy.
“Though we are always ready to demonstrate flexibility for better industrial relation, we will not accept hire and policy,” said Jammakattel.
Rimal said workers" demands are divided into right-based demands, which are clearly envisaged by laws and interest-based demands, which are focused on securing more rights for workers.
“We are for implementing right-based demands and securing interest based demands for workers to ensure their greater rights. However, some employers are not ready to fulfill even the right-based demands of workers let along the interest-based ones,” added Rimal.
Dharmendra Kumar Singh, President Nepal Factory Labor Union of Nepal Trade Union Congress (Independent) is also of view that employers are not serious about fulfilling the genuine demands of workers. “Employers are not showing interest to address demand for social security of workers,” Singh added.
However, rising frequency of talks between workers and employers in recent times is an indication that industrial relation will improve in the coming days.
Singh, however, expressed objection over employers not living up to their commitments. “Employers have yet to deposit the amount that they promised in the welfare fund even though they are already deducting workers" salary,” he added.
Going beyond the core labor issues, trade union leaders also stressed the need to generate more employment opportunities. “Our priorities are not only limited to rights of workers. We are also emphasizing employment-focused development policies,” added Rimal.
Jamkattel said trade union rights should be expanded in overseas labor destinations where Nepali workers are suffering a lot.