Labour Law Reform: Some Thoughts : Premal Kumar Khanal

Nearly after seven long years of discussion, the government has finally agreed to introduce the Labour Act-2072 to revitalise and re-evaluate the Labour Act of 2048 by making some amendments and improvements. The labour-related act of 2016 was replaced by the Labour Act-2048, and for nearly 20 years it had been directing the labour market. Likewise, trade unions are being formed through the Trade Union Act- 2049.

Currently, there lie numerous problems in the labour market due to the labour and trade union acts. The labour market has become vulnerable, leading to unhealthy industrial relationships. Though there is provision for permanent recruitment after 240 days of work in an enterprise in the act, in majority of the places, this provision has not been implemented. Hence, majority of the workers continue to be recruited either through temporary contract or on a daily wage basis for a long period of time. In addition, most of the workers have been seen fighting with the management for minimum wage increment.

Collective Bargaining Authority

To manage trade union activities, there is provision for a Collective Bargaining Authority (CBA) election. But the lack of interest in the election shown by the trade unions themselves and governmental bodies, trade union activities seem to be losing ground. Many trade unions themselves are involved in basic trade union activities, such as collective bargaining and worker's movements, which can only be carried out by authorised trade unions through a CBA election.

After the 062/063 political movement, for the welfare of labourers, the restored parliament proposed that the right to establish trade unions for collective bargaining and right to industrial action be provided as per the ILO conventions on fundamental rights. Immediately after this, the parliament directed the government to amend the Trade Union Act and Labour Act.

Currently, the government has the challenge of correcting the labour act by formulating a new labour act to solve the issues regarding workers’ facilities, trade union rights and efficient management of trade unions according to the directives of the then restored parliament. Though there is a need to address the trade union, social security and bonus acts according to the need of the time, at present only the amendment to the labour act has been primarily discussed, hence more challenges will be seen in the efficient management of the labour market.

After a worker gets recruited, he has the right to become permanent, develop his career and improve his economic status. But this draft has omitted the procedure of permanent recruitment after 240 days. Sadly, this draft has given more priority to the recruitment of workers on a contract basis through outsourcing, which is the main cause of workers’ exploitation.

Further, through a 'hire and fire policy or 'no work no pay' concept, workers will be demotivated as they are to be provided only half the salary if a strike exceeds 15 days. The labour act lacks provision for the minimum wage standard, and hence the employers will be barely concerned about the workers’ welfare. They will try to obtain the highest profit in less time by providing as little facilities to the workers as possible.

This draft has not given priority to the CBA election for collective bargaining. To bring discipline in collective bargaining, the CBA election is very important. As long as the concerned bodies don’t realise the importance of the CBA election for proper collective bargaining, no fruitful results can be expected. The trade unions should be able to form a committee for collective bargaining should they fail to conduct the CBA election.

There is a long practice of forming a Central Labour Advisory Council (CLAC) to provide suggestions to the government and formation of a policy and act related to labour. But in the past, only a few trade unions were represented in the particular council. The absence of several legally registered trade unions created dissatisfaction, and there were many complaints. The current draft has a provision for seven members only in the council, including two women, whereas there are 12 trade union confederations at the moment.

It looks as if the demand for the formation of a labour commission is in jeopardy, which was basically thought to provide efficient and timely justice to the workers. Though a tri-party agreement has been made, at present, only formation of the labour act has been given priority in the current draft. Several amendments and improvements in the Trade union Act and regulation are needed, without which, it will be difficult to manage the labour market and hence manage the bonus act and social security act, too.

Ending labour exploitation

It is necessary to end the labour exploitation and enhance and protect the worker's right by developing healthy industrial relations between the workers and the employer. Trade unions must be highly concerned about ensuring the social security and career development of the workers and broadening the area of the labour act in terms of benefiting the workers in every aspect.                     

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