Going nowhereTrade unions have made no significant contribution to the country’s development
The trade union movement does not have a long history in Nepal. Despite attempts to develop unionism in the 1950s, trade unions were able to present a firm and better picture only after the restoration of democracy in 1990. However, trade unions have made no significant contribution to the country’s development; they have only put a few people in comfortable, income generating positions. Trade unions have been accused of being non-functional organisations.
Service is the keyword
A few weeks ago, when I visited the Department of Transport Management (DoTM) to pay my vehicle tax, I became nervous after seeing a mass of people standing outside the gate. I got in line anyway, expecting to be served after some time. I waited for almost an hour, but the line did not move. Somebody told me that most of the officials were in a trade union meeting. I waited for a few more hours, but eventually I had to return home without paying my taxes. What is interesting is that I learned that going through a broker would have ensured me prompt service. It’s a pity that officials are not penalised for engaging in such practices, making people think that trade unions are unnecessary in bureaucracy.
Civil servants are recruited for the service of the nation. They are paid well with taxes collected from the public. However, their service to the nation has always been questionable. This is precisely the reason why the Nepali people are not happy with bureaucrats. To some extent, people have even become hostile towards them. Trade unions have deeply penetrated the civil service, making it difficult to determine representatives of the state from representatives of unions. Even under-secretary level government officials have become trade union leaders.
The entire public faces similar poor service when visiting any government office. This is happening primarily because trade unions in Nepal are divided along partisan lines. Bureaucrats find it important to be affiliated with political parties because this provides them support for activities that help in improving their own living standards, rather than enhancing economic activities. The tendency to develop personal networks for personal gain is not taking us anywhere productive. This is really not in harmony with the very philosophy behind trade unions. Such a state of affairs has spread confusion among the people with regard to the role of trade unions and other member based organisations.
Some trade unions even make financial contributions to the political parties they are affiliated with. They are more centralised due to political influence and support, and most private organisations are adversely affected. As a result, some effected private organizations are not in existence anymore. Employers start to question whether they should recruit Nepali staff or not. Therefore, vacant positions in most industrial sectors are filled by foreigners, especially Indians and Bengalis. After all, the role of trade unions cannot be fruitful unless they address issues at the local level.
Against this backdrop, trade unions play a crucial role in society. The trade union movement is highly significant in the history of Nepal. Multiparty democracy was restored in 1990 due to the active participation of trade unions in the People’s Movement. Similarly, their significant role in People’s Movement II made it possible for the country to become a federal democratic republic. Since trade unions have been accused of being politicised, they find it important to be affiliated with political parties. According to them, it is because of political ties that the subject of trade unions has been enshrined in the constitution.
However, trade union intervention at the policy and local levels have affected the rights of workers. The Joint Trade Union Coordination Centre was formed to extend civic responsibilities. Since the trade union movement in Nepal is surrounded by negativity, this is the right time to show their active participation—when the country has entered a new era with the launch of the federal system. Accusations of trade union leaders being politicised have been spreading, and nobody can deny that trade unions are mainly affiliated with the three major political parties. This has created a situation requiring the government to identify authentic trade unions.
Trade unions were formed to ensure the rights of workers, and the government has allocated a large amount for their establishment. Political instability is another challenge in the country. Due to frequent changes in government, development plans are often changed, and problems arise constantly. Moreover, lack of awareness is a major issue. It is, therefore, important for every citizen to be productively involved. In order to gain appreciation from the public, trade unions need to fulfil their obligations by participating actively to achieve their goals. The government, too, should fulfil their demands and address their grievances.
Adhikari holds an MA in English literature from Tribhuvan University