As Nepal grapples with an economic downturn, the tripartite stakeholders - the government, private sector, and trade unions - are preparing for a challenging round of wage negotiations. The biennial wage review is set to be a battleground, with workers feeling the pinch of soaring inflation and employers struggling to keep their businesses afloat amidst the economic slump.
Trade unions are advocating for industrial workers to receive wages equivalent to a first-level office helper in the civil service, which stands at a monthly salary of Rs26,348. However, employers argue that such expectations are unrealistic given the current economic climate, with a factory worker's minimum wage currently at Rs15,000 per month.
The Wage Committee and Its Role
An 11-member committee was established four months ago to propose a minimum wage plan. The committee, coordinated by Dandu Raj Ghimire, joint secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, comprises representatives from various government departments, Nepal Rastra Bank, trade unions, and employers' organizations. The committee's report, eagerly awaited by all parties, is due to be submitted to the government in the coming weeks.
The Impact of the Economic Recession
The economic recession has cast a shadow over this year's wage negotiations. Hansa Ram Pandey, a senior expert at the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) and a committee member, highlighted the economic challenges. He noted that many factories have either closed or reduced production, with manufacturing plants operating at only 50% capacity. The National Statistics Office confirmed that the country was officially in a recession until the second quarter of the current fiscal year, with the annual economic growth rate projected to slow down to 1.86 percent.
The Trade Unions' Perspective
Trade unions have proposed two solutions to the government: either provide subsidies to low-wage workers or increase the minimum salary to Rs26,348. Janak Chaudhary, vice-president of the General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) and a committee member, pointed out the growing issue of inflation for workers with small salaries. He called for an end to pay discrimination between government and private sector employees, questioning why civil servants receive higher minimum pay than private sector workers.
The Inflation Factor
According to Nepal Rastra Bank, the country's central bank, the year-on-year consumer price inflation rose to 7.44 percent in mid-March from 7.14 percent a year ago. Economists suggest that Nepal is experiencing hyperinflation, an extreme case of inflation, due to a lack of sufficient data and transparency.
The Road Ahead
The process of increasing the minimum wage in Nepal has never been straightforward. In the past, unions have resorted to strikes and protests to pressure the government. However, the unions are currently in a wait-and-see mode, anticipating the committee's report. The government is expected to make adjustments to the pay structure in line with growing inflation, rather than a direct increase in the minimum wage.
The committee's recommendations, due in the next two weeks, will play a crucial role in the government's decision on whether or not to raise the minimum salary. As Nepal navigates through these challenging economic times, the outcome of these wage negotiations will have far-reaching implications for the country's workers and businesses alike.