Labour unrest hits Unilever Nepal


Kathmandu : After Coke, Pepsi and Dabur Nepal, consumer giant Unilever Nepal now finds itself at the receiving end of a labour dispute.

Though apparently the dispute is between third parties – Unilever Nepal's third-party service provider, a Nepali company called Unique, and the workers hired by the latter – it could be more complex, going by the trend of current labour unrest in Nepal.

Since Thursday, about 20 disgruntled loaders began a sit-in in front of Unilever Nepal's factory in Hetauda town in Makwanpur district, refusing to unload raw and packaging materials and load finished goods for dispatch.

The loaders first demanded that they be directly employed by the Anglo-Dutch giant.

Earlier this month, they staged another sit-in before Unilever's factory and depot, disrupting distribution till they were persuaded to call it off on the intervention of the chief district officer and representatives of industrial associations.

However, they resumed the protest this week with more demands, including higher wages, which have been described as "atrocious".

"The dispute is purely between Unique and the loaders," said Kamran Bakr, Unilever Nepal's managing director.

"However, the wages the loaders get is far above the (prescribed) minimum wages in Nepal."

Though Unique is reported to have offered a significant increment, the loaders are pressing for a much higher amount.

The loaders' agitation comes close on the heels of an agitation by newspaper distributors in Kathmandu last week that had the same modus operandi.

Newspaper delivery boys, said to be affiliated to the Maoists, stopped the distribution of the popular English language daily, the Himalayan Times, and its sister concern, the Annapurna Post, demanding direct employment by the newspaper group.

The protesters obstructed the distribution of the paper for a week, triggering condemnation by media organisations.

The reigning labour union at Unilever Nepal is affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist, one of the biggest rivals of the Maoists.

There have been reports of the Maoist trade union trying to increase its clout in Hetauda and disrupting the functioning of other organisations.

A tea factory, a leather industry and a resort in Hetauda have been closed this month due to the rivalry.

Earlier this year, Dabur Nepal announced it was shutting down its greenhouse due to strong-arm tactics by the Maoist union.

In 2005, Unilever Nepal had to close its soap factory for two weeks due to threats by the powerful Maoist trade union, the All Nepal Trade Union Federation (Revolutionary).