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Report of the Workshop on Trade Union Education for Workers Welfare

Organised by Nepal Trade Union Congress - Independent (NTUC-I)

02-25 December 2012, Kathmandu


Introduction

Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent (NTUC-I) organized four activities with different affiliates (Carpet, Embroidery, Hotel and Restaurant Workers, and Public Services,) and one with central committee members in Kathmandu in December 2012 to discuss issues related to workers welfare. Altogether, 300 workers (out of which 75 were women) participated in the workshops. Trainers for these activities were drawn both from FES and NTUCI-I. The major target groups were trade union leaders, workers, policy makers and other stake-holders. During the process more than 300 workers were trained on labour related issues such as socio-economic policy of the state, social security, leadership development and skills to organize the labour force among others. Workers from the Carpet Sector also organised one day interaction programmes with the employers in order to access the problems being faced by both the sides.

Objectives

The main thrust behind this year's activities was to educate workers with the new provisions of welfare and other trade union laws that are currently under discussion. In fact, with the changing political environment, there is an urgent need to educate workers and trade union leaders on the new welfare policies such as social security that country is going to adopt. Within this context for the last couple of years Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Nepal Office is organizing series of activities for trade unions so that they can also have their say in the new political set up. Since Nepal is going through major transformations at different levels - what would be future socio-economic policy for trade unions and workers also becomes essential for democratic stability. That said, what type of economic and social policy would best fit for the workers that can guarantee their constitutional rights, labour rights, and human rights as well as to bring industrial peace. At this backdrop, trade union education becomes key for the institutionalization of democratic culture and strengthening inclusive democracy. Democratic culture is needed to inculcate constitutional behavior, self-governance and public consensus among citizens so that it helps to build a democratic way of life. The primary concern of these types of programmes is to impart civic knowledge, civic skills and civic virtues to citizens so that they remain committed to deepen democracy in public as well as private life.

Themes Discussed

Highlighting current state of socio-economic and political affairs in the country Chandra D Bhatta from the FES brought into limelight that the constitution of 1990s and the interim constitution (2007) has come many step forward and envision "welfare state" and stress on right to social security to all citizens as a duty of the state and explicitly concerned agencies of the state to formulate policies and programmes accordingly. Principally, the Interim Constitution of 2007 has stipulated some new rights: right to work, education, health, food, social security, social justice and many more. There are four acts: Bonus Act, Social Security, Unemployment Insurance Act, Trade Union Act, Labour Act, Labour Commission under discussion (with the CA dissolved, their fate is unknown). These are crucial acts to seek the neutrality of the state between capital and labour, for the democratisation of economic power as well as the ability to foster post-conflict peace building measures and maintain social peace. Social support of unions is essential for economic development and a healthy relationship between labour and employers wherein both can view each other as social partners and common stakeholders of democracy argued Bhatta. An economy cannot grow without social support.

He further stressed that there is an urgent need for social security policies; it is not immediately clear that whether developing countries would be able to implement programmes of social security or not given their size of national economy. The introduction of social security programmes in developing countries also becomes difficult task given that capital and insurance markets are typically underdeveloped, budget restrictions are high and developing countries are usually characterised by traditional labour structures and large levels of poverty, which would require social programmes to achieve a magnitude that few governments in developing countries are able or willing to implement. In addition, governments in those countries have, in general, less capacity to collect taxes, implement complex programmes of social protection or correct market failures, due to their low levels of income, education and infrastructure. Furthermore, political pressure against the implementation social security policies is also often high in developing countries as such policies may imply some form of redistribution. Nepal is no exception to this phenomenon told Bhatta. The rampant poverty [more than 25 percent as per the government data] there is an urgent need to provide some cushion to the citizens. Interestingly, Nepal's political leaders and interest groups have incorporated all sorts of rights into the constitution without developing mechanism to ensure these rights.

He further said that political rights can only be fulfilled through economic and social prosperity. Nepali state currently seems to be too feeble. Part of the blame goes to the socio-economic policies that it has adopted and part with the rampant corruption in society. The major bone of contention is: whether the state - in the existing economic situation will be able to fulfill them or not. Social securities are primarily funded through state's exchequer. The total contribution of tax to national GDP is below 15 percent which is not sufficient to meet the administrative costs of the state let alone catering demands generated by different societal forces. The ambitious agenda of welfare state floated by political parties will not become reality unless we introduce self-sustaining economy. The tax base can only be expanded when we move towards industrialisation, modernisation of agriculture, and other productive sectors of economy where the country has both competitive and comparative advantage. But this has not been the case, we are simply promoting financial capitalism which does not produce anything but consumes everything imported from abroad. People working in the financial market are paid hefty amounts of money but the lack of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) culture in this sector has meagrely contributed towards the welfare of the broader citizenry. Its share to nation GDP is 4-5 percent. The cycle of capitalism that is mobilising money again and again to earn profits/make money without investing or providing share to the workers is another problem and this has taken momentum in 1990s and which has now reached to its heights.

The rise of high rise buildings, financial sectors and service industry based on the knowledge have captured broader amount of capital which have proved quite beneficial for handful of people but not for the workers at large. This is so because its trickledown effects have not moved out of Kathmandu. In fact, its trickle-up effects in Nepal. The only idea that has gone out of Kathmandu is the plotting of the land which is disastrous both for the state, society, and environment in the long term as massive deforestation has eroded the fertility of soil, habitat for ecological species and its sprout to support economy. Nepal economy is sustaining on the remittance sent by the workers and everyone needs 'workers' (be the are at home or abroad) but no one is interested to uplift their lives. Remittance contributes around 25 percent to national GDP.

There are ample rooms to develop mechanism to support the social security system in Nepal - if the state can harness its natural as well as human resources. It has a capacity to electrify the whole South Asian region and can accumulate sufficient wealth in its treasure from it. In the same vein, modernisation and commercialisation of agriculture could be another source of income that can financially sustain Nepali state. Worldwide agriculture is the second large source of employment. Investment on human resources could be another source of income as Nepal enjoys having the youngest number of population that falls between 18-35 years of age group. Vocational trainings could also open of windows of opportunities for jobs within Nepal as there are many areas where Nepal lacks manpower and is heavily dependent on the migrant workers. In addition to this, the development of urban areas as as 'service' economy could also employ large number of youths in the days to come. Investment on tourism can also increase its contribution to national GDP. What is important, though, is the loopholes that exist in our economy and these very needs to be mended. The tendency to usurp national resources for personal prosperity has resulted in a situation which Garrett Hardin calls tragedy for the commons

Issues Raised

Commenting on the paper many participants argued although Nepali state is not in a position to guarantee all sorts of socio-economic rights at the moment given the current economic situation in the country but it would be worthwhile to reflect on our own capacity that what we can give and how we can give. It is important that we know the current state of economic affairs in the country.

Tej Bahadur Basent of Carpet Association said that we have to work together both for our benefits as well as the benefits of the association. He reminded that the situation in carpet had changed a lot. Earlier more than 3 lakhs people used to work in this sector now we have to search for the labour/workers in the sector. This is primarily because of the wrong policies that we have adopted in the past. We have work together. Political parties have divided the country - but we workers from 14 zones and 75 districts have to be united and fight against this division. He also said that democracy is not extractive system, in contrast, it has look after need of the people.

Ram Mani Pokhrel said that the informational has brought many problems in the labour market and we have to make sure that people working in the informal sector as well get some benefits of democracy.

A.R. Pandey said that the carpet sector is special sector and we are aware of the problems being faced by the sector. Every effort will be made to revitailse this sector said Pandey

Yuba Raj Lama pointed out that we have not been able to implement labour act in this sector completely whereas the fact is that this sector needs all the provisions of social security.

In the same vein, another participant said that the trade union leaders in our country have failed to convince the industrialists and others to work in line with state's need. They seem to be cheating both the state and its people.

On the question of challenges of statebuilding in Nepal, many participants are of the view that the political leaders of this country are not honest they preach democracy but don't practice on their own said Uttam Gautam. He also highlighted the success story of the trade unions in many places.

Khagendra Khatri said that we have to reach where state has not been able to show its presence. Only we can talk about statebuilding. He further said that we should use knowledge, skills, and networks for our mutual benefit.

Ganesh Niraula said that we have to reflect on our past mistakes and move ahead accordingly as in the past we could not fully able to exert our influence while draft policies.

Mitra Rai remarked that the situation in the public institutions is not satisfactory and trade union movement should not be trapped by the interests groups and others.

Speaking in the inaugural programme on the internal meeting of the NTUC Chandra D Bhatta highlighted the importance of democracy and democratic institutions. He said that the rift in the democratic institution such as NTUC will not help democracy and the need of the hour is that we should work united and sort out our differences through democratic means for the benefit of our organisations as well as for the institutionalization of democracy.

Achyut Raj Pandey, Yubaraj Lama, Tej Prasad Rijal, Ganesh Niraula, Mitra Rai. Laxman Basnet, Uttam Gautam and others spoke in the inaugural programmes and also led other sessions.

Conclusion

Unlike the last year, where we had some concrete achievement where FES contributing in developing socio-economic policy and trade union then placed it before the party. This year because of the internal conflict in the union - we could not conduct our programmes in time. That said, however. the main achievement of this year's programme is since the NTUC-I was having internal problems and we had difficulty in conducting seminars with our persistent pressure to unite and help they manage to sort out the programmes. - CDB

 
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