Striking a balance

At last, the dispute over minimum wage between the employers and workers has been settled through negotiations. This can be expected to help improve the industrial relations that already leave much to be desired. Recently, the government had revised the minimum wage. But, owners of industrial units had been saying that it would not be possible for them to provide the increased wages because of the ‘unsatisfactory state’ of the industrial sector, whereas workers had started agitating. Sunday’s agreement in the capital between the Federation of the Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) and the Federation of Trade Unions has raised hopes of a better industrial climate. However, some of the businesses had already increased the wages, some fully and some partly, while the others had still been balking. The government has divided the total wages into two parts — basic wage and dearness allowance. Accordingly, the total wages work out to Rs 4,600 for unskilled workers, Rs 4,650 for semi-skilled workers, Rs 4,760 for skilled workers, and Rs 4,950 for highly skilled workers.

However, the differences among the four categories of workers appear a little too narrow, showing up the failure to take into account the importance of skill properly. For daily-wage workers, the compensation has been fixed at Rs190 per day. It is a moot point whether the wage structure should come up for review at regular intervals, or only after the salary hikes of government employees. In another positive step, both sides have agreed to move ahead by establishing understanding between management and trade unions to resolve any labour and other industrial problems. But, sometimes, problems may crop up because of the lack of agreement between the trade unions themselves. How to resolve the problems arising from the co-existence of several trade unions with differing political faiths and differing priorities may constitute a major challenge. However, the representatives of the various politically affiliated trade unions have signed the deal in question.

To keep as a going concern their enterprise is in the interest of both investors and workers. Therefore, both owe it to each other, as well as to society at large, that they should take a fair approach to problems, understanding each other’s compulsions, legitimate interests, and rights. However, unfortunately, the tendency on the part of management has been to treat labour as a mere commodity, and, on the part of unions, to push for even unreasonable demands. This has led to sour industrial relations in Nepal. This has to change, if industrial growth is to be promoted, jobs are to be created, and the economy is to be given a boost. For example, it would be unfair for trade unions to demand bonus in a loss-making enterprise. However, businessmen have often not kept their transactions and accounts transparent for the workers to consider their difficulties. Now, the trade unions must ensure that the production processes suspended in many industries are put back into operation. It is the government’s duty to play the role of a fair and impartial umpire, disciplining in the process those who violate the rules of the game.