The following article illustrates very well what we mean by political action, one of the three levels on which we support our partners. Nepal, a country in full transition (still drafting a new constitution), offers a lot of challenges but also opportunities to lobby for more social protection, labour rights and social security schemes. It highlights some of the issues at stake, like how to finance the social security fund, as well as the political tract our two partners, two of the main trade unions, have, by bringing in the Prime Minister to attend the rally. Remains to be seen if he can keeps his promise.

KATHMANDU: Trade unions have demanded that the government bring rules to provide social security schemes to workers at the earliest.

Observing the International Labour Day, also dubbed ‘May Day’ on Thursday, trade unions threatened to obstruct budget session of the Parliament, if the government fails to address their issues related to workers’ rights.

All the trade unions under the Joint Trade Union Coordination Centre (JTUCC) have jointly decided to give ultimatum to the government regarding the social security issue. Even as the government promises to bring schemes for workers, it has not been able to do so due to delay in promulgation of the Social Security Act (SSA) and new Labour Act.

Bishnu Rimal, president of General Federation of Nepalese Trade Union (GEFONT), has warned that if the next session of the Constituent Assembly (CA) or parliament does not implement the social security schemes, all the trade unions will demand refund of all the money that has been contributed to the Social Security Fund (SSF). The fund has so far accumulated Rs seven billion.

“We will also obstruct the budget session if the government fails to bring the schemes,” he said.

A commitment motion regarding the social security schemes has already been submitted in the parliament. According to Khilnath Dahal, president of Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent (NTUC), lack of SSA has been the main hurdle in utilising the fund and bringing the schemes. As per the draft of the SSA, employees will contribute 11 per cent of their wage, up from the existing one per cent and employers will be responsible to chip in 20 per cent to the fund. 

For the fund, one per cent is being deducted from the salary of employees engaged in both the public and private sectors since the last four years. The government had introduced Social Security Fund Management and Operation Regulation 2011 to collect the taxes and bring schemes. However, the social security schemes have not materialised till date.

The trade unions claim neither the government nor the private sector is showing interest in introducing the SSA and utilising the money in the SSF. Employers, on the other hand, say that while they are not against the social security plans, the government needs to take it as a package in reforming all of labour-related issues. 

“Since flexible labour law is crucial for smooth labour relations, the new Labour Act too must be endorsed,” said Manish Agrawal, vice-president of the Employers’ Council of the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry. Agrawal said that even as there had been marked improvement in labour relations, it was necessary to make reforms in the related laws. 

In the social security, the government also plans to introduce schemes to cover maternity expenses, workplace hazards and medical treatment of workers. The fund has also envisaged of bringing other plans, including unemployment benefits, facilities for dependents of workers, old-age compensation to workers, among others.

There have been demands to amend other Acts, including Trade Union Act and Insurance Act. An official at the Ministry of Labour and Employment said that since the trade unions and employers are still debating some provisions like ‘hire and fire’ and ‘no work, no pay’ in the new labour law, promulgation of the rule regarding social security was taking more time. The SSA is crucial to govern the SSF.

Trade unions raised their voice on workers’ rights on May Day and marked it by organising rallies, mass meetings and different programmes across the country.

PM assures workers’ representation
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala on Thursday expressed commitment to ensure workers’ representation in each policy level body of the government. To this regard, he has sought a year’s time. “I assure workers’ representation in the policy level bodies of the state,” said PM Koirala while addressing a May Day programme organised by Nepal Trade Union Congress-Independent to mark the 125th International Labour Day. In the programme, Minister of State for Labour and Employment Tek Bahadur Gurung said they were serious towards addressing the problems of workers and assuring their rights. — HNS

Some provisions in Social Security Act:
11 per cent of workers’ salary to go towards the Social Security Fund
Employers to contribute 20 per cent of the workers’ salary to the fund 
Use money collected in the fund for workers’ security schemes
Provide unemployment benefits 
Pension after retirement
Insurance for reproductive health and accidents at workplace for the workers
Scan of article in The Himalayan

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