GEFONT’s High-Level Panel Discussion on ‘the challenges of Socio-Economic Transformation” concluded:

Kathmandu: A High-Level Panel Discussion program on ‘the challenges of socio-economic Transformation” has been held by the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT). The seminar discussed the latter status of Nepal’s labour movement, achievement, challenges and contemporary political situation.

In the first session on the issue of Comparative Study and Analysis on Policy/Programme of Government of Nepal,

During the discussion, Formal Finance Ministry and CPN-UML Deputy General Secretary Bishnu Paudel said that such discussions would help in analyzing which government’s labour-friendly policies and programs came into effect and whether did they go into implementation or not. “It is necessary to inform the general public about it,” said Bishu Paudel.

He said, “It was clear that the latter government of  CPN-UML had always given priority to the agenda of the workers”. According to him, the provision to use educational certificates as collateral for a bank loan and outlawing bonded labour system( Haliya and Kamaiya), and contribution-based social security were the important works done by the KP Oli-led government. He also informed that preparations have been made to address the demand for setting up a Policy Study Academy in the CPN-UML.

During that session, Umesh Upadhyaya, Vice-President of the National Labor Foundation said that the programs related to the labour sector are more oriented towards skills and employment while presenting a comparative study of the policies and programs of the previous government from BS 2047(1990). “However, it has been executing much dispersedly which is unable to be sustainable thus the economy has not been able to reap the benefits from such programs”.

Upadhyay, who is also the head of the GEFONT Organizing Academy, said that GEFONT and Joint Trade Union Coordinating Center (JTUCC) had played a crucial role in implementing Contribution-Based Social Security Programs in Nepal. “The policies and programs of the government have not been able to cover the informal sector in particular so, tripartite participation in determining the minimum wage, programs including social security allowance for senior citizens are important.” He further said that the dynamic practice of Collective bargaining has become possible in the meantime and it is necessary to institutionalize the inspection system and establish the labour audit system.

Commenting on Upadhyaya’s concept paper, Former Secretary to the Nepal Government, Lal Shankar Ghimire mentioned that there is no proper practice of reviewing the past. “If the plan is well made, its implementation will not fail” and even questioned, “does the fault lies in the planning of  Nepal?.” He said, “Since the responsibility of formulating the plan rests with the joint secretaries of the Ministries, therefore, the political leadership should take care of it and the ministers should take the lead”. “There would be a problem if the budget is not prepared as per the policy and special program is needed for the growth of internal employment”.
Another commentator, Dr Bishnu Raj Upreti commented that the quality and implementation of the training programs have been ineffective even after the training program is integrated into the government’s policies and programs. He also said that in policymaking there is no involvement of the people’s representatives as employers are dominating, so it is necessary to pay attention to that. According to him, insufficient discussion with the stakeholder, hasty formulation of policy, without looking at the required laws, manpower and equipment to implement the policy have been seen to be major problems. “Similarly, the implementation of the policy is weak due to the lack of accountability,” said Upreti, President of the Institute for Policy Studies.  

In the Second session, while Presenting a working paper on Decent work and Contemporary issues raised by the International Trade Union Movement in the second session seminar, UNI APRO General Secretary Rajendra Acharya said that COVID-19 caused a reduction in working hours in Asia and the problem of unemployment has been exacerbated in Nepal due to the COVID-19. “New skills have been added to the employment and there is the possibility of people coming to Nepal from other countries for employment and going to other countries from Nepal”. He further added that the issue of occupational health and safety seems to be a major issue during COVID, and pointed out the need to raise this issue more seriously in the future. “It is necessary to create more employment in Nepal and Nepal is in a dire need of skilled manpower which would help in attracting foreign investment,” said Acharya.
Commenting on the working paper, Alison Tate from ITUC said the  ITUC is conducting a global campaign to create more jobs. He stated, “the work done by GEFONT in the field of social security and its achievements is worth learning to the world, the global labour market has been in a phase of change and the continuing work by GEFONT to organize the  Nepalese migrant workers is important”.  
Another commentator, Mr Sharan KC, remarked that the longer the global supply chain, the higher the possibility of so many workers being deceived therefore it is necessary to cut down the supply chain. 

In the Third Session of the First session of Second Day, the field of labour and employment: Policy Decision and Challenges in its implementation, while presenting on the issue of policy decision and implementation, GEFONT Patron Bishnu Rimal said that Labor Act 2074 BS and the Social Security Act,2074 BS, which came into effect as twin law, are under attack and needed the coercive crusade to quell it. He mentioned, “ Any of the imposed laws of the country can not be optional, no one should be allowed to defraud the workers”. While stating the importance of setting up a labour audit, he said a common forum for multilateral dialogue is necessary for the parliament because such a forum provide an opportunity for collective discourse among the political leadership, trade unions and employers.

Furthermore, Rimal informed about the important work so far done by GEFONT covering since its inception, its contribution to policy development and differences between saying and doing. While recalling the founding of GEFONT, he discussed the efforts and achievements made for leadership development at various stages. He also recalled the policy of making 100 people experts, adoption of a policy for women leadership development, and further informed about the policy to prepare women leadership with the slogan of “Not mere representation but equal participation”. 
Rimal, who is also the erstwhile President of GEFONT, stated that following the third general convention, GEFONT has become more open and even informed regarding the matter of analyzing its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Moreover, he briefed about the executed important policies and programs by the time GEFONT reached its seventh general convention through the fourth and fifth of its earlier convention. “Meanwhile, the policy institute unable to work as expected due to its focus on long-term work, little research is done from the GEFONT side, its regular school could not be operated due to COVID-19 and the process of unification between GEFONT and ANTUF has wasted the opportunity of mobilizing workers for almost a year and a half,” said Rimal.
Commenting on the session, ITUC AP General Secretary, Soya Yoshida praised the work done by GEFONT and also recalled the role played by GEFONT  in organizing the workers. The third session of the second day was chaired by Dr Bimala Rai, National Assembly Member.

In the Fourth Session of the 2nd session of 2nd Day, Shankar Pokharel presented a concept paper on the socialism oriented economy and policy programme of the Government. He said that the bourgeoisie is reluctant to implement the contribution-based social security program in fact this program would strengthen Nepal’s social security system in the long run thus this program is transformative.  He also said that the KP Oli -led government has pulled off significant achievements in energy development, development of air and road network and development of water transport which would be the basis of future prosperity. “Various programs have been implemented at the state level to increase employment and the program of this nature implemented in Lumbini which became popular but hastily stopped following the rise in popularity and fall of the government of CPN-UML”.  

Commenting on the concept paper, CPN-UML Standing Member Surendra Pandey said that the cause of all the changes till today is labour and wokers are the ones who change the world according to the entrenched belief. He added, “The process of economic transformation is continuing in Nepal due to declining Poverty, rich becoming richer and growing number of the middle class”.  “Land, Labour and capital are important to move towards socialism and for that, tools and most importantly knowledge is required”.
Surendra Pandey,who is also a former finance minister, noted that half of the remittances sent by Nepalese from abroad go to India and is necessary to develop a culture of respecting the employment available in Nepal. He further stated that those who have returned from abroad and have been doing employment and entrepreneurship in the county should be encouraged more.  Furthermore,  he put a strain on the necessity to respect labour and workers in Nepal as well while recalling South Korea’s culture of respect in the workplace and urged GEFONT to launch a campaign to develop a culture of respect in Nepal, believing that respect and gratitude would make workers more responsible. The Fifth session was chaired by former Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission Dr Pushpa Kandel.

In the Fifth Session of 1st session of third Day: Pradip Gyawali, Secretary of CPN-UML presented a concept paper on Contemporary politics and the issue of socio-economic transformation. He said, “to understand the status quo of politics, one has to look back at least one and a half-decade and is necessary to understand the historic people’s movement of 2062-63 BS (2005-2006), the peace process, new constitution, the last general election, victory of leftist to form the left-wing government and the game played to topple it”. While discussing the models of revolution in Europe, China, Russia, and other countries, he stated that there had been movements of capitalism and communism as two different models against feudalism. “But in Nepal, both communist and capitalist forces fought together against feudalism which marked to be a successful political movement, therefore Nepal’s revolution is of a new nature”. 
He also said that the social and economic transformation has not been as successful as the political movement succeeded in Nepal. He said, “There is a problem in implementing contribution-based social security and land acquisition for the landless farmers and it is clear that the class who were with the revolution are now the obstacle for social and economic transformation”. Stating that rigged capitalism existed in Nepal yesterday and still prevails today,  Gyawali attributed this to the same force that supported the movement before have maintained the rigged capitalism.
Gyawali, who is also a former Minister, recalled that the KP Oli-led government had implemented various programs so that people could feel the benefits of the movement. “Minimum Wage increase, implementation of a contribution-based social security program, safe housing for the homeless and various relief and other programs have been launched with an aim to connecting with the working class through these programs”. He further said “Number of people going for foreign employment and returning home was in decline if this tends continues, the forced foreign employment would end within a decade” 
Presenting remarks on the concept paper of Gyawali, CPN-UML General Secretary Ishwor Pokharel said “ the problem we see now is the inability to understand the present time properly, once played an important role have been becoming incompetent in recent times and this situation has come as a result of the failure to improve the political consciousness ”. 
He stated, “we are pretty confused in terms of understanding change and tend to get distracted and confused when things found to be irrelevant after reading Russian, Chinese, Korean and Vietnam revolutions”. Saying that under the name of the current coalition, backwardness has been described as a step that was taken against regression has created confusion and such propaganda need to stop. “We need to thoroughly comprehend the current politics to understand what sort of change is today’s change and what kind of forces were active in that change,” said Pokharel.
According to Pokharel, the current national politics is two poles of the political spectrum and one of them is led by the CPN-UML. “CPN-UML has put forth issues including economic development and prosperity and issues of national self-respect and independency, maintenance of social harmony, ending the anarchy and dreams of developing the country as a whole had been promoted under the leadership of KP Sharma Oli”. “Subsequently, there are coalition forces at the other end of the spectrum who are disregarding the constitution, laws, values, and giving in independency and national self-respect leading to the political instability,”  said Pokharel. The fourth session was chaired by Rajan Bhattarai, CPN-UML Foreign Department Chief.

The three-day high-level seminar was attended by officials and members of the National executive Committee of the GEFONT and experts from various disciplines. Participants questioned, expressed their views in the every sessions very enthusiastically.  GEFONT has been organizing such seminars every so often to analyze the labour sector and formulate its views around contemporary political context and train the key leadership. 

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