The NTUC is building its advocacy capacity to promote decent work creation in Nepal

The creation of decent work faces many obstacles in Nepal. Promisingly however, employment has increasingly been brought into the public discourse and early signs of change can be observed. The Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) is mobilising to help bring this positive change to full fruition. This article provides an analysis of the situation by the NTUC and presents its plans to raise awareness and advocate for decent work.

By Mahendra Pd. Yadav - General Secretary Nepal Trade Union Congress - pictures by NTUC

The national context

Some 400 000 people, most of them young, enter the job market every year. Just over 5 per cent of them manage to find a suitable job. The rest are compelled to be unemployed, underemployed or engaged in jobs that will not sustain their living. As the latest available Labour Survey (2008) indicates, 2.1 per cent of young people in Nepal are unemployed and 30 per cent underemployed. Rural areas are hit particularly hard.

The lack of decent work opportunities at home pushes people to seek employment abroad. The prospect of higher earnings abroad is a major push factor for Nepali migrant workers. As a result, the majority of young people end up going abroad. Some 1 500 young men and women leave Nepal every day. While the remittances they send home constitute a significant portion of government revenue, the void they leave behind represents a huge productivity vacuum. Among these labour migrants, some get involved in notoriously precarious activities that have a devastating impacts on Nepali society. Conditions in Gulf countries are particularly poor and workers routinely experience salary delays, extreme working conditions, exposure to harassment and abuse such as the detention of passports by employers. The alarming increase of Nepali migrant coffins returning from these countries have reached record levels.

Employment policy-makers are yet to find a solution. Experts argue that the current murky state of employment at home is due to the cumulative impact of the Government’s failure to encourage the private sector, as well as a lack of focus on productive employment in various sectors of the economy, in particular within the service industry and in agriculture. There is some optimism in the recognition of the scope for reversing the employment trends through the implementation of sound schemes.

Nature is a source of both opportunity and risk in Nepal. The earthquake of April 2015 is an example of the devastating impact it can have, destroying households and workplaces. The ongoing economic border blockade disputes with India compounded the situation. However, research also vouches for the untapped potential in Nepal’s natural resources. If we are to succeed, we must mitigate the risk and exploit the opportunities in a manner that results in the greatest benefit for the people of Nepal.

Tentative steps in the right direction

Through various policies and programmes, the Government has expressed its commitment to promoting employment opportunities and a better quality of life. In response to the dismal scenario of employment in the country over the years, it has sought to take measures to generate employment. The setting up of the Youth and Small Entrepreneur Self Employment Fund (YSEF) in 2016-17 is one such measure. It seeks to generate employment for 50 000 young people through YSEF. Initial results are mitigated due to limited stakeholder access to this information.

The Nepali Government also adopted a National Employment Policy in 2015 but has unfortunately shown a lack of commitment to its implementation at programme level. Agriculture, Manufacturing, Construction and Tourism, are identified as the main sectors for employment creation in Nepal. Almost 80 per cent of the workers in Nepal are employed in agriculture. As agriculture is seasonal, many are under-employed during the off-season. Labour productivity is low due to insufficient technology, information and finance. There is no social security for these workers and their income is very low. Many informal sectors are largely unorganised and hence workers do not benefit from any protection. Furthermore, the large potential for job creation through public infrastructure is not fully tapped. Nepal has the comparative advantage among its South Asian neighbours to develop its tourism sector. Inadequate infrastructure and political instability are blamed for week tourism sector development.

Trade union engagement

The NTUC believes that the current legal and policy framework enables job creation in the country. However, there is insufficient commitment to actively enforcing these laws and implementing these policies. This is in part due to a lack of information among policy-makers and planners and a lack of accountability for the implementation of policies and laws. The NTUC, as a national trade union centre, has the mandate to advocate at different levels and draw attention to the implementation of policies and laws to create new jobs and improve existing jobs in the country. With the support of the ILO, the NTUC has launched a project to strengthen its advocacy among policy makers and planners in order to help them understand the situation and take policy and programme decisions for the creation of decent work.

The project focusses on awareness and capacity building to strengthen advocacy efforts for employment promotion. Activities are planned both at the national and provincial levels. Social dialogue will be used as a key advocacy strategy to address policy makers, politicians and other key actors. The local level planning process in selected municipalities will be targeted so that employment priorities are integrated there too. The NTUC will work in close collaboration with employment related actors both at national and local levels. The youth and women wings of NTUC will be mobilised for effective implementation and maximising employment related advocacy.

Throughout the project, the NTUC will be sensitively incorporating issues related to gender, disadvantaged group, people living with disabilities and migrant workers. Social dialogue will be used as the main tool to facilitate local level planning and integrate the employment creation agenda into local level plans and programmes. The NTUC will document the ongoing learning, best practices of the programme and exchange this knowledge with relevant partners including the ILO, civil society organisations and through the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network.

The NTUC has started work in the Parsa, Morang, Kathmandu, Rupandehi, Kaski, Banke, Surkhet and Kailali districts of Nepal. The target groups of the project are unemployed youth, women, trade union members, leaders and workers, returning migrant workers, local organizations working on employment issues, local government officials and national officials (including the Ministry of Labour and Employment).

For more information on the work of the NTUC, please consult their website here.