A Case for Balens and Harkarajs in Employment Sector

Neeraj Neupane

Balen Shah in Kathmandu and Harkaraj Sampang in Dharan did very well in the recent local government elections. The support these two independent candidates received from the general public was tremendous. After the spectacular electoral victory, how they will work for the people is yet to be seen, however, Shah and Sampang have become synonymous with transformational change in Nepali society for the time being. I think, there are mainly two reasons for it. First, the current political leadership is continuously ignoring the problems of the general public. Second, political leaders have started acting like they are the ‘bosses’, but they forgot the fact that they were elected by the people for the betterment of society. The recent activities of political leaders are more depressing for the general public. The radical transformation in the country has been a dream for many, and the recent electoral victories of independent candidates indicate this has started to take a shape as representatives from the new generation have started taking responsibility and accepting the challenges. By experiencing long political drama, people are frustrated with the political agenda. The head honchos of political parties have shown utter disrespect to the public mandate as they have turned the system to get all the benefits for themselves. The success story of most political parties is similar; they have long iterated that they are for the upliftment of the poor people. But the fact is, leaders have become wealthier and the agenda of their political parties get ignored.

The situation in the employment sector today is similar to the country’s political system. The owners of the companies are dominating the sector which benefits them. The Labor Act gets ignored and workers are pressurized to fulfill their responsibilities by any means possible without considering the need to have a good level of work-life balance. The workers don’t have many choices as the prospect of other employment opportunities gets dimmer.

Government supervision in this aspect is almost nil. If any worker would like to complain about some employer or organization. There are consequences followed – he may lose his job which is the only source of running his family. The government authority may ask for a bribe to register the case, the government authority may inform the owner without registering a case, and the employer may influence the labor department by paying the bribe. There are many such consequences which are discouraging employees to lodge a complaint against such employers. This is making employers stronger in their approach.

There is a provision for registering labor unions in organized sectors institutions. However, most of the registered unions are wings of political parties and they rarely work in the interest of workers. There are many instances where factories get closed due to unnecessary political intervention in the industry in the name of labor unions.

The minimum commitment expected by employers from workers while joining any organization is that he/she is hired to work for the organization in exchange for monetary and other benefits, which the employer earns by doing business. The employer should understand that he will be making money by legal business means, not by reducing the basic benefits of workers guaranteed by the constitution of the country.

I would like to highlight a few points which are majorly getting ignored rather bypassed in making employment understanding between employee and employer, these are basic points covered by the Labor Act of the country. The major challenges for the workers, they are not getting benefits in their employment contracts are:

Job Hours and Fair Pay
The labor act has provisioned 8 hours a day of work with half an hour of break in between and minimum wages as set by the government. In case of more hours of work, the stipulated hourly pay rate should be calculated 1.5 times as overtime work. One day paid weekly off. Many of the workers do not know this and employers are taking benefit of their ignorance.

Statutory Employee Benefits
Provident funds and gratuity are provisioned as long-term benefits for the workers. Most of the workers work for meeting daily needs. These needs of his family can be fulfilled by the worker when he is able to work. The retirals shall take care when he is not able to work. If the employers don’t care about these benefits now, there is a risk that high numbers of aged workers will be working in the industry, to fulfilling their basic needs.

Occupational Health & Safety
Occupational health and safety are other aspects provisioned by labor law for the protection of the workers. Most small organizations do not give more importance to this aspect. For them, this may be small savings by not implementing these features. If something goes wrong, workers will have to face the consequences for life. All workers should feel safe while working. A positive working environment assures productive results. A healthy and safe working environment should not be overlooked by employers at any cost.

Yearly leave benefits and insurances are other benefits for the workers provisioned by the Labor Act. There are very chances that these benefits are not passed out to workers most of the time. Many employers don’t understand these requirements, there may be many reasons to not implement this. Those employers should know that these things guarantee employees to do better, these are not so high-cost expenses.

Government Control
The government has only a few mechanisms that help them to oversee the labor act implementation status in any organization. A labor audit report is an annual report to be submitted by the employer to the labor department, very few organizations are complying with this requirement. The report is just a compilation of a few ‘yes or no questions. There are no strict evaluation criteria in this process. That means obviously it won’t help the government, neither they have control of it.
An annual auditor’s report of any organization should capture the observations of labor act implementation status which is not getting complied by the organizations. Most organizations do not know this requirement, and auditors of the company keep a blind eye on this statutory requirement. This is an unfair practice, in the process workers are losing out on it.

Grievance Handling
Easy access for registering grievances for workers may help improve the situation. The government has to increase its reach to the public to make a significant improvement in the process. Increasing government intervention may help organizations implement the benefits guaranteed by the Labor Act. Irrespective of the situation, to improve the condition government has to act responsibly.

If the government wants to establish control over it, they can promote some initiatives like ‘complaint about unfairness in your organization – no disclosures of complainants’. This may help in encouraging workers to come forward. Labor law defaulting organizations need to be punished strongly.

Self-respect is another aspect that all workers deserve. If someone is working for anyone does not mean that he will not care about his self-respect. We have seen that there are many people who are not getting their proper respect while in the job, the only reason for not getting care is because they are in a lower position. The guarantee for respect irrespective of position or level has to be there in the workplace.

Some organizations in Nepal are very careful in implementing these aspects, they are doing comparatively better. The workers’ representatives are not doing collaboratively better for the collective betterment of the workers. This portion is missing. Even umbrella organizations of the Nepali private sectors like the Confederation of Nepalese Industries (CNI), Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI), and other associations, are meant for the collective bargain on employers’ part, they are failing in considering a way forward for the protection of people working for them.

The constitution of Nepal is ‘socialism-oriented’ whereby socialism favors a more equal distribution of wealth and income within the society. The socialist government’s primary task should be to focus on eliminating the exploitation of workers. We are becoming very much used to talking about corruption. Corruption is the main factor for promoting disparity as being new normal in like. The disparity in pay packages is helping create more gaps between poor and rich. The irony today is rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer.

Martin Luther has well said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” This lies similar in every sector. We can’t ignore when the fire reaches neighbors’ house, it surely douses your house if not controlled on time. We have to think about it seriously.

We are becoming a party to every wrong thing happening around us in society. The same culture will be passed on to the next generation, which obviously will do good for none. This is the time to take the initiative to change what is not good for the long run. Being in HR we have the responsibility to say ‘no’ when something wrong is happening around us, we have to set the fundamentals right. The minimum guarantee envisioned by the constitution of the country has to be restored at any cost. This is possible only when we general public challenges the employers who are not complying with labor norms fairly.

We do not want a society where people are not enjoying their retirement after attaining a certain age and have to work to support their family at the age when their own body is not supporting them. We don’t need a society where one human being is not caring for others. We do not want to build a future where the poor becomes poorer and the rich don’t care that the other section of the people. If we don’t think about it now, it will become too late to consider the change, then only god can save us. It’s not too late now, each one of us can contribute to making the change. If we experience any lacking in labor law obligation, let’s act responsibly and contribute to society. What we need are individuals like Balen Shah and Harkaraj Sampang with visions in the HR departments of organizations to accelerate the corrective change in the employment sector.

Neeraj Neupane is an HR Practioner.

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