KATHMANDU. Within days of joining the new communist-led government of Nepal, the former Maoist guerrillas have begun to flex their trade union muscle, calling strikes in quick succession in the major industrial areas, whose effect will also be felt by major Indian companies like Hindustan Unilever, ITC and Dabur India.
From Tuesday, the All Nepal Industrial Trade Union owing allegiance to the Maoists withdrew from negotiations with officials of the Hetauda Industrial Corridor in central Nepal and enforced an indefinite strike that has hit nearly 80 industries employing over 5,000 workers. Among the besieged industries is Hindustan Unilever's subsidiary Nepal Unilever, which faces a daily loss of NRS 4 million as its factory at Basmadi in Makwanpur district remains closed.
On Wednesday, the trade union on the warpath also shut down industries in the Morang-Sunsari Industrial Corridor, the largest in the country with about 500 units. Though it was a token strike from half an hour in the morning, the Chamber of Industry, Morang said the union had distributed pamphlets saying it would be followed by a one-hour closure Thursday, which will be doubled Friday. If its demands are not met by then, the striking union has warned of stronger measures, likely to lead to an indefinite closure, as in Makwanpur.
ITC's joint venture Surya Nepal, one of the biggest tax payers in the Himalayan republic, has its garments factory in Biratnagar town located in the corridor. ITC's John Players garments are manufactured here and exported to India and other countries. The strike call comes even as Surya Nepal is building a new factory for its tobacco business in Tanahun district in the hills to get a reprieve from the culture of bandhs plaguing southern Nepal.
The Maoist trade union is demanding that the existing minimum wage of NRS 4,600 (less than Rs 3,000) be increased to NRS 10,000 and daily wage to NRS 450 from NRS 190. It says the current 11.3 percent inflation has made survival impossible on the current prescribed wages. The industries, on the other hand, are incurring whopping losses due to the power crisis that started three years ago, resulting presently in almost 18-20 hours of power cut daily during waking and working hours. They are also besieged by extortion by armed groups and major political parties, and the fear of kidnap and even murder attempts.
Dabur India's joint venture Dabur Nepal, which had its factory in southern Nepal raided in December and 74,000 cartons of its Real brand of fruit juice initially sealed for manufacturing date irregularities, faces possible disruptions later this month along with Surya Nepal's tobacco factory. The Maoists have announced similar protests in the Bara-Parsa Industrial Corridor along the Indian border till March 25. From March 26, the union has warned of an indefinite strike in the belt if the industries fail to concede its demand.