Over 70 percent of industrial workers denied pay, survey findsA majority of employers in the formal sector flouted government order and withheld their staff salaries for the month of Chaitra.
Chandan Kumar Mandal
While tens of thousands of workers in the informal sector face the challenge of making their ends meet during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, a large number of industries workers were denied their salary for the month of Chaitra (March/April), according to a survey.
The study conducted by Whole Industry Trade Unions Nepal (WHIN) among workers from 219 companies spread across five provinces, found that over 70 percent of the employees had not received their salary for the month.
“That a large number of employers have not paid workers’ salaries when they need it the most indicates towards a devastating situation for workers,” said Anand Thami, president of WHIN, a body associated with the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GFONT).
In Province 1, around 87 percent workers were denied their salary. Similarly, the number for Province 2 stood at 58 percent and that for Bagmati and Gandaki at 68 percent each. All workers surveyed in Province 5 said they were not paid.
Most of the businesses that paid their workers for the month were multinational companies, hydropower projects, and food and drug factories which were allowed to operate during the lockdown, according to Thami.
The country has been under a lockdown from March 24 with the order remaining in force until at least May 7. With all the non-essential services suspended to contain the spread of coronavirus, all factories have remained shut. While some workers have lost their jobs, others have been forced to go on unpaid leaves or take pay cuts.
“The ongoing lockdown, which is a new experience for the country, has forced a large number of workers out of their jobs,” said Thami. “Even the factories that had continued operations until the government imposed the lockdown have not paid their workers.”
The sudden lockdown has already devastated the country’s informal labour sector with a large number of people walking long distances to go home to their villages from urban centres.
“Most of the discussions on labour tend to focus on those in the informal sector,” said Thami. “But it didn’t surprise me to see workers in the formal sector get equally hit by lockdown,” he said.
The survey also found that out of the 219 businesses where a trade union was in operation, 20 companies paid partial salaries to workers. Forty-nine companies only paid workers on a daily wage basis that too as advance.
“Even those who were given fractions of their salary or only paid on a daily wage basis can’t be categorised under “paid workers”. The employer is going to deduct that sum from their next month’s salary when the companies resume operation,” said Thami. “Not paying the workers is completely flouting the government decision as it had directed all the employers to pay last month’s salary.”
The government had announced that the ongoing lockdown will be counted as a public holiday and workers will be paid the amount they are paid every other month.
The survey found that the government’ social security scheme was yet to cover a substantial number of workers. While 116 employers (52.96 percent) were enrolled under the scheme, only those working for 34 companies (15.52 percent) were registered under the scheme. Most multinational and big companies were registered with the social security scheme, according to Thami.
As part of the government’ Covid-19 relief package, the Nepal government had said it would deposit the amount contributed by workers and employers of organisations affiliated to the Social Security Fund for the month of Chaitra.
“The government has already released Rs 190 million [to the social security fund] to cover the workers’ and employers’ monthly premium,” said Thami. “As 85 percent of the companies haven’t registered their employees [with the fund], their workers have been deprived of the government’s relief. Not enrolling under the scheme also costs employers as employers need to pay 20 percent of the total premium amount.”