Does the new Nepal constitution work for Nepali workers?
After five years, six months and 26 days of work as well as two elections, two major earthquakes and close to 500 aftershocks, a new dawn rises on Nepal: the new Constitution is proclaimed today. But what kind of provisions does this new Constitution rese
President Ram Baran Yadav will promulgate the new constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal today amid a special function organised in the Constituent Assembly building in Kathmandu. The new constitution was authenticated earlier this week by 537 out of 597 Constitutional Assembly members and had garnered support from 507 out of the 532 CA members present in the CA. The constitution is based on the principles of democracy, federalism, secularism and multi-party competition.
Not everybody supported: all 25 lawmakers of the Rastriya Prajatantra Party voted against, 60 lawmakers of the Madhesh based parties boycotted the voting process owing to their differences over the number and demarcation of the purported federal units and five other had remained absent. Some 40 people were killed during protests.
What do trade unions think?
After too many years of transition, this marks a decisive step towards stability and can only help the reconstruction efforts. JTUCC, the umbrella organisation of trade unions in Nepal stated: “More than 2 millions working people, members of JTUCC are joyous with this progress of event. JTUCC has expressed faith in the document to end the decade long political transitional phase, institutionalize the achievements of the movements and lead the country towards the path of progress. Laxman Basnet, General Secretary of SARTUC: “We now have a constitution written by people’s representatives after 65 years of struggle and the three major political parties have urged the citizenry to celebrate the promulgation of the new constitution and treat the occasion as a festival.” Some celebrate indeed, with two days of holidays and several receptions and gatherings.
M Khila Nath Dahal, President of NTUC, also supports but states that political parties did not even follow their party manifesto. Several of the issues trade unions lobbied for and which were mentioned in the draft, were finally not included:
• The right to strike is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, though the freedom of association and to organize is;
• The Labour Commission, a necessary structure for labour inspections, has not been institutionalized in the new Constitution;
• Trade unions also lobbied for a guaranteed 10% of representation for workers in Parliament and on other levels, but this was also not obtained;
• The right to vote for Nepali migrant workers abroad, an important group and also a demand of the Nepali trade unions, was also not obtained
Far from including all demands, the new Constitution is still more progressive than current or previous ones. Social Security for all is mentioned as a right, and so is collective bargaining.
Analyzing the situation, trade unions celebrate the proclamation of the new Constitution. M Bishnu Rimal, President of GEFONT said “The new constitution is ours, we have its ownership. Therefore, we heartily welcome the new constitution and appeal all our members, supporters and well-wishers to light candles in their home throughout the country on September 20.”
JTUCC conveys “hope that the agendas of the workers, at present not addressed by the constitution, will be included later and will continue to advocate for amendments to the constitution”. They also hope the end of the transitional phase will allow other law proposals, like the historical Social Security Fund Act currently in front of Parliament, and the draft Labour Law to be adopted in the near future. All this will mean however that trade unions will have to rethink their structure and role in a federalized Nepal, just as Nepal will have to do the same with many of its institutions to enact the Constitution. The sun might rise but will the light shine soon?