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Trade Union Development in Nepal

The FES always executes activities with partner organizations in Nepal. Planning of activities is done on a yearly basis. It is supporting all the Nepalese Trade Union Federations registered with the Department of Labour: Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC), Democratic Confederation of Nepalese Trade Unions (DECONT) and General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT). The basic objective is to promote a democratic trade union movement and reinforce its independence. Accordingly, the project objectives aim at achieving:

  • Professionalization of the trade unions’ structure and culture; and
  • Improving the knowledge, skills and information about trade unions in general and Nepal’s trade unions in particular.

Under these project objectives, FES has supported them in:

  • Preparation of training manuals on Information Handling, Documentation and Union Office Management.
  • Material support in the forms of journals and books.
  • Trainers’ Handbook on Trade Union Organization, Trade Union Rights and Collective Bargaining
  • Financial support to invite technical experts related to Trade Union education.
  • Training on the issues of collective bargaining, co-determination, labour economics, health and safety for the workers, trade union rights and responsibilities and status of informal sector workers in Nepal
  • Seminars and research publication on labour legislation, strengthening union capacity through membership drives, organizing female workers through union campaigning, leadership empowerment, the impact of structural adjustment and globalization on the workers, women in garment industries.
  • Facilitation of international and regional exposure of trade union leaders and workers through participation in international seminars, workshops and training programmes.
  • Providing scope for the unions and their leaders to share experiences and conduct joint national and regional programmes with International Trade Secretariats such as International Transport Workers Federation (ITF); International Federation of Metal Workers (IMF); Union Network International: Asia-Pacific (UNI-APRO); International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers Union (ICEM); International Federation of Building and Wood Workers Union (IFBWW); Asian and Pacific Regional Organization of the International Federation of Commercial, Clerical, Professional and Technical Employees (APRO-FIET); Public Service International (PSI); International Federation of Journalists (IFJ); Education International (EI); International Labour Organization (ILO); International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers Association (IUF); Postal, Telegraph and Telecommunication International (PTTI); International Confederation of Free Trade Unions: Asian-Pacific Regional Organizations (ICFTU-APRO); and FES-organized regional and international conferences, including the South Asian Trade Union Council (SAARTUC).
  • Translation and publication of various trade union educational materials into simple Nepali language and dissemination of those materials to the national and district offices of the unions. Besides these three federations, other smaller trade unions have also benefited from these publications.

Table-1 shows the number of activities undertaken by the FES jointly with partners in Nepal during the years 1995 to 2000.

Table-1 Trade Union Activities
Type of Activities
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
Total
Seminars
-
3
-
-
1
2
1
1
-
-
8
Workshops/Trainings
1
1
-
-
-
-
-
9
10
11
32
Studies and Publications
3
1
2
2
2
2
1
1
1
-
15
Study Tours
1
-
1
1
-
-
11
6
-
-
20
Material Support
3
2
2
-
-
-
1
1
-
-
9
Total
8
7
5
3
3
4
14
18
11
11
84

Table 2 shows the number of participants in international activities organized by FES together with international trade union secretariats.

Table-2 Number of beneficiaries from Nepalese trade unions who participated in international conferences
Year
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
Total
Persons
8
10
11
15
6
10
12
3
11
86

Table 3 shows the number of regional seminars that were jointly organized by FES with international trade union secretariats.

Table-3 Trade Union-related regional activities in Nepal
Year
ITF
UNI-APRO
ICEM
Others*
Total
1996
2
1
-
3
6
1997
2
2
2
2
8
1998
2
2
2
2
8
1999
-
2
2
1
5
2000
-
2
-
1
3
2001
-
1
-
1
2
2002
-
-
-
1
1
2003
-
-
-
-
-
2004
-
-
-
1
1
Total
6
10
6
12
34

     * Others include: PSI, ITGLWF/TWARO, IFJ & IUF

Attempts have been made to improve the works of partner organizations, and strengthen their roles as catalysts of social change through seminars, workshops, trainings and exposures and by inviting advisors and by means of publications. Under the FES initiative, for the first time, two major trade unions – Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) – came together and participated in five consecutive trade union workshops in Kathmandu. FES took a similar initiative along with the Education International (EI) to bring two teachers’ associations – Nepal Teachers’ Association and Nepal Teachers’ Organization – at a common forum to discuss on "Working Together." Now both associations are co-operating in a number of areas of mutual concern, building consensus in matters of common interests and defining consensual objectives and priorities, especially in the field of education, eliminating child labour, rehabilitation and education to bonded labour, seeking the organization of unorganized and agricultural workers, increasing the membership of women in union-building process and strengthening the rights of workers.

The recently initiated unity talks between NTUC and GEFONT for a single trade union in the country indicate a healthy trend towards the professionalization of the trade union movement in Nepal, relatively autonomous of the state and partisan political groupings. Collective identity of workers is the key to overcome the problems of "collective action" and the attainment of workers’ welfare. FES works on a non-partisan basis and helps its partners to conduct most of their trade union activities outside the Kathmandu valley. This provides opportunities even for local trade union workers and leaders to know, engage and participate in trade union training and education programmes and make their work more effective.

Besides, a number of seminars and research publications (Structural Adjustment Programme: Its Impact on Workers; Industrial Relations System in Nepal; Productivity, Wages, Employment and Labour Market Situation in Nepal: The Role of Trade Unions; and Labour Market Development and Poverty: With Focus on Opportunities for Women in Nepal by FES with the partner organizations) have been used as resource materials for them in understanding industrial relations in Nepal, several laws and acts and the economic policies adopted by the Nepalese government.

Education and training are the two recurring themes in the debate on institution building. Training programmes for trade unions do stress the issue of sustainability, typically underlining the importance of creating a strong organization capable of entering into free collective bargaining with the employer. It supports the trade unions in a polycentric and decentralized way by working with the national federations, supporting some of the affiliates independent of national federations and co-operating with the International Trade Secretariat (ITSes) to work with national and local unions which generally provide advanced level of training, education, material support and exposure programmes. The idea of this decentralized and polycentric level of co-operation is to increase the capabilities of the different layers of the unions and to strengthen the coherence needed in the functions of trade unions, notwithstanding their segmented nature.

In this way, not only the leaders but also the members have had tangible benefits and it has been observed that the unions have become able to sustain some of their activities without the infusion of outside funding. One obvious impact of training, education, material support and involvement of outside advisors in the initial five years is that now all the national federations have developed adequate middle-level manpower who can offer training course on their own with only moderate financial support from outside. The expertise of some of the trainers is even utilized by ITSes in their regional and international training programmes. These have been possible because FES co-operation is more demand-driven and partners possess full ownership of the programmes.

The trade union partners of FES now particularly anticipate the need for an advanced level of education and training to cope with the changing nature of global, regional and national economy, technology and society to prepare themselves for the new challenges ahead and promote the social development goals set by the Nepalese government. They increasingly perceive that the traditional forms of labour have a limited use in a knowledge-based economy and are very costly to retain. The workers should be retrained, made skilled and innovative to respond to the mobility of capital, technology and job opportunities. As they gain new experience and become more efficient and competitive in their abilities, there is likely to be a change in the model of their leadership, organizations and activities. This is expected to help them reap benefits from union activities and contribute to social integration and development process.

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