05/01/2013, 00.00
NEPAL
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May Day in Kathmandu: political parties destroying jobs

by Kalpit Parajuli
Political strife, demonstrations and strikes have caused the shutdown of factories, leaving many workers without a job, and without the means to feed their family or educate their children. The country's Maoist government comes in for criticism.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Workers from dozens of labour unions took to the streets on May Day demanding an arms-length relationship with political parties after factories closed and people found themselves without a job because of political parties interested in power not workers' needs.

"Many political leaders might want to politicise us but this year on this very day we demand party politics out of labour unions," said Rashmi Khanal, a former assistant supervisor at the Surya Garment Company, a multinational company that closed down its plant in eastern Nepal in 2012because it could not fulfil its growing labour demands.

"We have become divided into different unions, supporting different parties, and demonstrated in favour of different party interests," she noted. "But in the end, all we did was lose our jobs. After factories shut down, we now live with half-filled bellies."

"Before I had a salary decent," a tearful Rashmi added. "I sent my children to school and we ate to our fill. Now I had to take my children out of school."

More than 15 national and international companies experienced protracted union unrest. At least six of them ended up closing forever. Hundreds of workers are now unemployed, struggling every day to find enough to eat.

Promod Sharma, president of the Confederation of Nepali Professionals, is also dejected about the situation. For him, "political divisions are the main cause of the lack of improvement in the labour situation."

Makunda Neupane, a former union leader, goes further. "Political parties are incapable of protecting workers' rights. They are responsible for a wave of protests and plant closures."

Because of this, this year's May Day has tried not to politicise labour issues. "It is time to keep workers and factories away from political parties," Neupane said, "because we have to protect jobs."

Opposition to politicisation is a veiled criticism of Nepal's Maoist government. After years of insurgency, Maoists are now trying to run a country amid internal divisions and social problems.

Hemkanta Khatri gets angry even with May Day rhetoric. "May Day celebrations cause hunger to my family," he said, sitting on the side of the road, sadness all over his face, watching the union parade.

Khatri, 38, comes from the village of Kavre, where his wife and three children live. "For 25 years, I was a labourer. May Day celebration means stores closed and no work. I earn nothing on this day; I just drown in my problems. The government or unions cannot make us happy. I have to forget about sending my kids to school; I can barely keep them alive."

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