Labour rights groups question sluggish progress of Social Security SchemeOne year after the implementation of the ambitious scheme, only 11,000 employers have registered in the government programme.
On Wednesday, inside the Bhrikuti Mandap Park, Kabindra Lama and a group of men were carefully listening to government officials who were hailing the progress of the Contribution-based Social Security Scheme on its first anniversary.
Lama, who works as a foreman with the Agni Mahindra Group, has already enrolled in the social security scheme that was rolled out to cover formal private-sector workers of the country. However, he still has some reservations regarding how the social security scheme will benefit him and his family. And he is not alone.
The predicament of workers like Lama reflects the slower than anticipated progress of the social security scheme, which has seen a lukewarm response from both employees and employers, a year into its launch.
“Our organisation has enrolled us in the scheme and there’s been a regular discussion about the programme inside our organisation,” said Lama, who has been working with the company for the past 13 years. “I came here today to learn about the scheme in detail so that I can inform my management about it and fellow workers.”
Others, who had come to the event had similar concerns.
“The scheme has come and is being implemented by the government amid confusion,” said Anil Maharjan, a mechanic at HH Bajaj. “The right information has not reached the workers even in the Kathmandu Valley. You can imagine the condition of workers in the districts outside.”
While Lama and Maharjan remained unclear about provisions of the scheme, the government said nearly 11,000 employers and about 116,000 workers have registered, calling the progress ‘encouraging.’
“Ensuring social security is the responsibility of the state. The scheme has so far seen an encouraging response from the employer and the workers,” said Rameshwar Ray Yadav, the newly-appointed minister for labour, employment and social security.
The contribution-based social security scheme provides old-age pension, medical treatment, health protection, maternity coverage, accidents, and disability compensation for the enrolled workers.
However, various labour rights groups differ on the government’s claim of progress, saying the implementation of the scheme has remained far from successful.
“The scheme was a landmark achievement and gave new hope to workers,” said Bishwanath Pyakurel, president of the Confederation of Nepalese Professionals. “It required regular monitoring from government bodies and commitment from employers for its effective implementation, which has not happened.”
According to the policy, an amount equivalent to 31 percent of workers’ basic monthly salary—11 percent deducted from worker’s monthly salary and 20 percent employer’s contribution—should go into the social security fund.
“Nepali workers celebrated the day with joy. But they have not been able to experience the new era as promised by the prime minister,” said Pushkar Acharya, president of Nepal Trade Union Congress. “We need to review the existing system to minimise the confusion over the scheme.”
Labour rights leaders associated with various trade unions blamed employers for deviating from their prior commitment to the scheme.
Nearly 50,000 employers should have registered under the scheme in its first year, some labour union leaders say.
“Social security scheme was one brick in the wall for the welfare of formal private-sector workers,” said Binod Shrestha, president for General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions. “New confusion and complexities have risen with time. Employers look less interested as they are being seen not respecting the agreement.”
They also accused some companies of laying off workers so that they can minimise the financial burden which has piled up on employers following the implementation of the social security scheme.
“Enrollment of only about 11,000 employers shows that they are not interested in implementing the scheme,” said Jagat Simkhada, acting president of the All Nepal Trade Union Federation. “Many of them have started firing workers, cutting down the workers’ numbers, and hiring workers on short-term contracts from worker suppliers.”