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by Kiran Mali
General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT)
Kathmandu, Nepal

Since Nepal is one of the least developed countries of the world, the process of socio-economic
development is far behind in comparison to others.

The Labour Act 1992 was enacted by the first parliament in 1992. Before this Act, the Factory and
Factory Workers Act 1959 had been in force in factories and other establishments as notified by the
government. After the change of polity in 1990, the parliament also enacted the Trade Union Act 1993.
In order to complement the Acts, Labour Rules 1993 and Trade Union Rules 1993 were enacted and
implemented. Social security issues are dealt with by the Labour Act 1992 and the supplementary

The New policies of liberalisation entered Nepal in mid-eighties. Then, in the form of the Structural
Adjustment programmes, the process of restructuring Nepalese economy started. After 1990, with the
establishment of the multiparty system, the process of liberalisation took a high momentum &
privatisation of state-owned enterprises was given a top priority. Emphasis was laid on how to attract
foreign direct investments. For this purpose, necessary amendments were made to industrial policy and
industrial and commercial laws.

But during the period of recent decade, conflict and autocracy dominated the political and the entire
national scenario before April 2006. But after the successful peoples movement for full-fledged
democracy, autocratic king has been pushed to a lonely corner and maoists the major source of violent
conflict have been pulled into the process of negotiation and peace. Therefore, the contempoary issue
in Nepal is the issue of restructuring state and economy and to build an inclusive society with no more
existence of discrimination. Hence everything is undergoing a change. Economic, industrial and labour
policies are under the process of change. It will take more than one and half year. Because the election
of Constituent Assembly, fomulation of new constitution and restucturing of state & governance based
on the new inclusive constitution is to be completed within a period of 2 years. After this significant
changes in the policies and policy frame is expected. However right related aspects have gained high
momentum in the labour market at present.

Because of the increasing speed of liberalization & globalization in our country, threats to the interest
of the working masses has increased. Even the formal sector of work is being informalized by the
subcontracting of work and subcontracting of labour, in the name of gaining competitiveness & cost
minimization. The responsibility for sacrifices and burden is being shifted to the workers.
Unfortunately, the state is facilitating the employers and the market ignoring social responsibility for
working masses. Hence legal provisions are insufficient to protect workers in this condition.

With the blind and haphazard privatization of public enterprises, both production & employment have
been adversely affected. Though there is no mass retrenchment, slow group retrenchments have been
observed. But because of our strong movement,the process of privatization is now temporarily stopped.
However, the extent of the permanent workers is gradually going down and the number in contract
work or casual labour is sharply increasing. The vast majority of workers are in informal sectors,
unprotected and neglected by the labour laws. Less than 10 per cent of the work force under the wage
employment is formal, while 90 % is in informal sectors of the economy. The conditions in the
informal sector are miserable. Long working hours, low payment, use of child labour, bonded labour in
agriculture, gender discrimination in wages & employment, no minimum wages in the informal sector
and no social security measures are the basic characteristics in the informal sector.

The policies of liberalization have caused deductions in social expenditures. State expenditures in
education and public health are being curtailed and burden of foreign debt has constantly increased.
The major consequences have been observed in the deteriorating living standard as real wages and real
incomes have declined.

Looking from another angle, consumerism has affected the whole national life not only urban but also
rural life. An indigenous way of life is at stake. Access to land and natural resources for needy people
have become very difficult.

Extent of unionisation
We can compare the extent of union density at present as following:

Table 1: Union Density in formal economy
                    Total                                         % of            % of unionisation out
                                   Total umber of
Unions            employees                             unionisation out of total  of total unionised
                                 union membership
                 under survey                                 employees                  workers
DECONT                                   6270                       4                       5
GEFONT                                  45404                      26                       39
NTUC                                    39020                      22                       33
OTHERS                                  10373                       6                       9
PE'S                                    16889                      10                       14
Total              173702              117848                      68                      100
                                                                 Source: Labour Offices, HMG/N: 2004

GEFONT conducted a survey throughout the country to examine union density and status of recognised
trade unions in formal sector. The information supplied by the 10 labour offices of the HMG/N
indicates that there are 68% workers organised under the unions (Table –1). Out of 173,702 workers
under the survey, 26% are the members of GEFONT. This number backs authenticity of sample size as
well. Similarly NTUC covers 22% and DECONT shares just 4% membership. A remarkable number
(6%) are the members in non-affiliated unions either of the national centre. It is interesting that the
workers from the public enterprises working closely with GEFONT without formal affiliation cover
10% of total unionised labour force.

If we calculate strength of National Centres based on total unionised force, GEFONT shares 39% and
the NTUC shares 33%. It is interesting that recent manufacturing census prevails total number of
workers working in the enterprises having more than 10 workers are 181,695.

Graph 1: Union Density in formal economy

                            % of Total Employment           % of Total Unionization





                   GEFONT           NTUC            PE'S         OTHERS        DECONT

With regards to recognised unions in enterprise level, there are 935 registered unions (Table –2). Out of
total registered unions, 60% are with GEFONT. Similarly, NTUC, DECONT and others represent 26%,
4% and 10% respectively.

Table 2: Number of recognised unions
Unions                     Total Recognised Unions                   % of Registered unions
GEFONT                               561                                       60
NTUC                                 247                                       26
OTHERS                                37                                       4
DECONT                                90                                       10
Total                                935                                      100
                                                               Source Labour Offices, HMG/N: 2004

National centres and Structure of GEFONT
Under GEFONT umbrella, there are 20 national federations affiliated to it. Total membership of these
unions are more than 304 thousand including paid-up, signatory and associate members. Under 3
regional coordination committe (eastern, central and western), it has 12 zonal committees where
government's 10 labour offices are situated.

The following structures are in place in the central organs as per the constitutional arrangement of
    a.   National Council
    b.   National Executive Committee
    c.   Central Secretariat (Departments and Issue-wise Committees)
    d.   Central Planning Commission

on organizing
       Activate organisational mobility through division of work into policy making and
          organisation mobilisation.
       Membership drive through all structures and federation committees
       Centralise the labour force at regional and central levels and mobilise it at least 5 times a
          year through May day (May 1), Child Rights Day (November 20), Migrant Workers Day
          (december 18), Womens Day (marh 8) and international commemorial day (Apil 28).
on trade union education
       Developing separate curriculum for workers in the formal, informal & self-employment in
          order to systematise Trade Union Education
       Developing separate curriculum for target groups like grass-root workers, cadres and
          leaders in order to provide political & issue-based education
       Emphasising to develop issuewise-experts and continuing the ongoing educational activities
       frequent conference of trainers nationally and regionaly.
on communications
       Give emphasis on the development of technical Human Resource
       Undertake research studies on contemporary and burning labour related issues
       Publish the research reports and findings and disseminate
       Use various alternative media for the publicity work
on campaigns
       Continue the efforts to develop single union umbrella in the frame of a labour parliament or
         a similar structure to bring into practice One Union, One Voice.
       Undertake the following programmes to add socio-political dimension to trade union
         o Launch class-based programmes
         o Launch programmes against social discrimination
         o Launch programmes against superstitious social ill-practices
         o Support the movements of consumer rights
       Strengthen the existing policy with the aim to increase the participation of women up to 33
         percent in various levels.
       Take initiatives to centralise unionisation campaign in the various sectors including
         agriculture,construction and steet vending sectors.

GEFONT has been the first to develop its own website, which was launched in 1993 in cooperation
with British trade unionists. Those days it was uneasy to send the file and request for upload due to lack
of technically sound manpower. It established its own website in 1995 as www.gefont.org. It has its
own computer server to provide e-mail and access to internet for affiliated unions and for departments.
Recently it has developed PHP based website that offend one man door policy to upload. Now it is
differentiated by subject to upload the materials to different person associated with GEFONT.

There are plenty of information relating to trade union and its movement. It has included number of
publications on the internet which can be used as reference for training, research and study.

As an effort to harness the benefit of IT, Nepali Labour Movement has initiated the creation of an
Online Resource Information Bank. It has been prevailed in the net as LabourNepal.Org, a Nepali
Labour Web Portal. It was launched on 6 December, 2001 on the occasion of Nepal's 35 years in ILO
by General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) in association with National Labour
Academy, a labour research institute in Nepal.

National Labour Academy (NLA) launches www.bondedlabour.net, a portal focussed on bonded labour
and Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) brings out www.childlabournepal.org, a
website concentrated on Child Labour in Nepal.

Information and IT policy are relegated and regarded with some mistrust. All along the history of
humanity there has been a divide between city and country, between technology and nature.
Main needs are:
    1.   Fostering the use of IT in the public, private, and social sectors.
    2.   Promoting education of human resources and developing IT culture.
    3.   Promoting scientific and technological research in IT.
    4.   Fostering the development of the IT industry.
    5.   Fostering the development of network infrastructure.
    6.   Consolidating coordination entities and the legal framework for IT.
    7.   Developing union database through web & intenet
    8.   Human resource quality development in the use of IT in cental as well as local levels

A major stumbling block for the spread of information technologies in underdeveloped countries like
Nepal is the weakness of the telecommunications infrastructure.

Another important policy element will be linking IT with education. This means using IT for education,
aggressively expanding its coverage with quality and relevance, and educating and training for IT as a
must for social and individual progress. In order to limit the risks of enlarging the gap between haves
and have-nots of IT, access is again a fundamental mandate.

        ONE UNION for Democracy, Peace & Overall Change!, 2002, GEFONT
        World of the Work in Nepal, 1995, GEFONT
        and various websites


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