A dignified, prosperous, and creative life of the working class in Nepal

The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) advocates for worker rights across various sectors in Nepal, focusing on decent wages, job security, and social security. GEFONT also promotes self-employment, organises educational programmes, and addresses contemporary issues like climate change.

By Bidur Karki, Vice-President of GEFONT

Since its inception, the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) has been active in advocating for the rights and interests of all types of workers in the industry, agriculture, and service sectors. It aims to organise, educate, and mobilise workers for a dignified, prosperous, and creative life for the Nepali working class. As Nepal is a member of the International Labour Organization, it has been adopting social dialogue and other measures to comply with labour standards.

GEFONT’s significant work focuses on addressing the needs of the entire working class and its members to ensure their rights and interests are realised. This involves moving towards three key assurances for the working class: return (decent wages), sustainability (continuity of work), and security (savings for the future - social security). To achieve this, GEFONT is undertaking the following actions:

Submitting rights-based and interest-based demands to ensure decent wages.
Implementing labour audits across all sectors (regular, permanent, temporary, outsourced, and daily wage workers) to enrol them in the social security fund.
Conducting time-bound minimum wage reviews, focusing on collective bargaining and proposing new systems for interest-based demands.
Expanding membership across all sectors.
Currently, in Nepal, students from various colleges are sent for internships in hotels, chain restaurants, and marts for a fee, where they work for 6-8 hours without any incentive. This exploitation of labour is unjust. The Labour Act stipulates suitable wages for interns or trainees, but this is not being implemented. Thus, GEFONT is expanding the union with the demand for compulsory pay for such workers.

There are more informal workers than formal ones in Nepal. Informal workers have not been properly identified, depriving them of some state facilities. GEFONT is working to register workers at the local government level to organise their employment. The purpose of registration is to bring social security to those in wage employment and self-employment.

To improve the socio-economic conditions of workers, GEFONT is encouraging members to pursue self-employment and entrepreneurship, arranging seed capital and training.

After nearly three decades of struggle, the Government of Nepal implemented social security for all in 2018. Currently, there are four types of contribution-based social security schemes being implemented through the Social Security Fund: Medical Benefit Scheme, Health and Maternity Protection Scheme, Accident and Disability Protection Scheme, and Dependent Family Protection Scheme. A procedure has been passed so that not only those in wage employment but also those in foreign employment and self-employment can be listed in this fund. To date, about 1.2 million workers have enrolled. GEFONT is campaigning to register at least two million workers in the next four years.

To organise the trade union movement, research, policy analysis, and trade union schooling will be integrated into a single structure to develop the GEFONT Organising Academy. Through the GEFONT Trade Union School, short one-day to seven-day regular training sessions are arranged as needed. Trade union education is conducted via hybrid virtual classes from the action room of the trade union school, connecting with classes from each province virtually. Participants will attend live classroom sessions in all seven provinces, while expert trainers will conduct sessions from the central action room.

As Nepal is a major supplier of foreign workers, about three million Nepali workers are employed abroad. GEFONT has expanded its work centres in these countries with the slogan "GEFONT is there where the workers are" digitally. GEFONT Support Groups have been formed in countries with large Nepali worker populations to protect their rights. This involves coordination and cooperation with local trade unions.

GEFONT is also conducting youth-centred programmes to engage and manage young members within the union movement, involving them in community workers’ clubs and youth committees at workplaces. A large youth workers’ conference will be organised to decide future strategies by analysing youth attitudes, aspirations, and conditions.

Strengthening women’s participation in the union movement includes assessing the post-restructuring scenario of the state and continuing campaigns against violence towards women in society and the workplace. This aims to highlight the role of women in society and the economy, promoting women’s leadership in the union movement.

GEFONT is also engaged in contemporary issues such as climate change and various pandemics through various activities.

To execute these proposed actions, GEFONT annually organises workshops, prepares action plans, and conducts campaigns through all affiliate committees at local levels and enterprises. This year, GEFONT is conducting its second campaign titled "GEFONT Campaign for Decent Work.