New Nepal constitution may guarantee right to strike

The eight major trade unions in Nepal have recommended to lawmakers drafting the new constitution that the right to strike be included as a fundamental right.

Last Updated: Dec 19, 2010, 16:04 PM IST

Kathmandu: The eight major trade unions in Nepal, including those close to the ruling parties and the opposition Maoists, have recommended to lawmakers drafting the new constitution that the right to strike be included as a fundamental right.

The earlier constitutions did not guarantee it as a fundamental right and the interim constitution allows workers to go on strike only under the labour act.

"We are confident the new constitution is going to include the right to strike as a fundamental right," said Tulashi Shiwakoti, chairman of the regional wing of General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT), which is close to the ruling Communist party.

"The high-level task force (formed to resolve contentious issues in the new statute) has agreed to it with the provision that workers will resort to strikes only after fulfilling pre-conditions."

Besides the right to strike, the other workers` rights that the trade unions are seeking to be included as fundamental rights are the right to make collective bargaining agreements and the right to organise, which means forming trade unions.

They are also pressing the government to ratify the convention with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and include the right to organise in it.

When the new constitution comes into effect by May 2011, trade unions also want it to ensure social security and a conducive working environment, which includes an end to all kinds of discrimination, implementing the minimum standards recognised by the state and educating society to treat workers with respect.

Shiwakoti said the right to strike is, however, being opposed by the business lobby.

In addition, workers and employers are also divided on two other issues - the right to hire and fire and no work, no pay.

Both sides have concerns and fears.

Thousands of workers are yet receive the minimum wages determined two years ago. Trade unions say even the enhanced wages - starting from Nepali Rs.4,600 a month - are grossly inadequate in a country reeling under double-digit inflation.

Industries fire workers and shut down businesses without notice or compensation and there are no benefits like healthcare and insurance.

Industrialists and businesses say they are reeling under acute power cuts that go up to 18 hours daily, crippling production, frequent transport and other strikes and extortion by armed groups and political parties with the government failing to ensure security.

The right to strike has especially been misused by the Maoists` trade union that has been resorting to strikes to push for facilities beyond agreements in a bid to strengthen its power base in face of the intense rivalry with the ruling party unions.

Many strikes and other disruptive protests led by Maoists have been targeting Indian companies and projects funded by the Indian government.

One of the most glaring instances of misusing the right to strike occurred recently when Nepal`s taxi drivers went on the warpath, demanding the right to ply cabs without using meters.

IANS