Impact of Covid-19 in Employment Relations in Nepal

The Covid-19 crisis has brought radical changes in the field of employment accounting for 71 percent of global employment losses. Needless to say, the effects of Covid-19 in the employer-employee relationship and the way of working in Nepal have also been far-reaching. To curb the spread of coronavirus, the Government of Nepal had mandated several restrictions on travel and halted operations of businesses across the country starting from March 2020. As a result, it caused a lot of turbulence in the employment dynamics such as (a) loss of employment, (b) reduction of benefits, (c) remote work culture, and (d) significance of health and safety in the workplace.

In Nepal, sectors such as tourism, hospitality and travel, aviation, casino and gaming, media, and construction have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. With business and revenue coming down to near zero, travel and tourism businesses were forced to faced unprecedented challenges leading to loss of employment for full-time and part-time employees along with daily wages workers and self-employed individuals. There were also big layoffs in aviation, construction, media, and entertainment sectors, but businesses in these sectors have been able to resume employment shortly since these were established businesses already booming in their path. However, few newly born industries in the hospitality sector such as hotels, casinos, and gaming centers were forced to let go of their employees due to the uncertainty on the timeline and the impact of coronavirus in Nepal. With a loss of hope for prosperous tourism in Nepal due to the ban of international flights for the longest time, a lot of employees were made redundant.

Several employers have also resorted to the reduction of salary and benefits of employees as a coping mechanism. In an attempt to secure the employment, employers have explored several ways of retention such as (a) deduction of working hours, (b) curtailing allowances (travel allowance, lunch allowance), (c) conversion of full-time employment to part-time employment, (d) mandating unpaid leaves until the upliftment of travel restriction. As seen in development sectors, several INGOs have adopted measures of benefit reduction as their global mandate worldwide. However, the changes in the benefits
have not been well received by the employees since they impact their salaries to a greater extent.

As a response to the pandemic, remote working has emerged as a suitable working alternative that has profound effects on the global labor market. Remote working is now a modern trend adapted quickly by employers and employees. The work-from-home (WFH) has enabled employees to practically work from anywhere. The increase in remote working has potentially benefitted service industries with a minimal impact on the operation of their businesses in Nepal. The flexible work schedules
have been valued by the employees more than ever before. However, the cultural shifts in remote working have caused difficulty in employees to log- out from their work. The lack of distinct demarcation between work and life has resulted in a lot of fatigue and demotivation at the same time. As appealing as the remote working modality may sound, there are substantial
issues relating to it from Nepali perspective, such as (a) having the resources (technology and equipment) required for remote working, (b) having an adequate workspace at home, (c) being able to complete the job without interruptions, (d) virtual teamwork and connectivity.

Further, the issues relating to work from home have been more inclined towards women as women not just have to work from home but also work for home simultaneously. Globally, four in 10 employed women work in sectors that were hard-hit by Covid-19, including travel, retail, food, accommodation, and services. Many of them have lost their job, while many have been facing challenges in maintaining the work-life balance while working from home.

[blockquote align=”none”]In Nepal, sectors such as tourism, hospitality and travel, aviation, casino and gaming, media, and construction have been hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.[/blockquote]

Due to the lack of policy in place to regulate the work from home modality in Nepal, there has been ambiguity in terms of connectivity, productivity, and work-life balance post-Covid. Projections about the workplace in the future have pictured remote working as a permanent arrangement rather than a transitory element during exceptional circumstances. It can be a promising modality in Nepal if there are adequate policies and resources in place. Thus, there is a requirement of policy priority to govern the work from home modality to increase efficiency and balance between work and life.

The impact of the coronavirus in Nepal has also the paved path for implementing health and safety protocols in every company in Nepal. Despite adequate legal provisions governing health and safety, there was a lack of implementation of the same in entities in Nepal. Moving forward, we have seen several entities taking the matter of health and safety policies seriously.

Sapkota is Associate Advocate at Pioneer Law Associates.

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