Strike-hit Indian telecom firm re-opens in Nepal

By Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

Kathmandu : After being closed down for over a month by a labour union and incurring losses running into millions, Indian joint venture in Nepal’s telecom sector United Telecom Ltd (UTL) re-opened Wednesday after mediations headed by Nepal’s labour minister.

Support TwoCircles

UTL, which became the first private player in Nepal’s telecom sector in 2002 as it won the licence to start landline services, re-opened after a strike since Feb 6 during which the trade union picketed the JV’s office and service centres, demanding direct and permanent employment by the company.

The UTL Workers’ Union, a labour group affiliated to Nepal Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala’s Nepali Congress party, gave the call for the closure.

The talks between the strikers and the JV broke down after the latter expressed its inability to fulfil the demand, pointing out that following the worldwide tradition of outsourcing unskilled labour, they had given the contract for local labour to a third party.

Though Nepal’s Labour Commission tried to mediate, the union refused to relent.

However, late Tuesday night, Nepal’s labour and transport minister Ramesh Lekhak took part in the talks and persuaded the union to call off the strike.

But the reprieve could be only temporary.

A committee comprising the joint secretary at the ministry and representatives from UTL, the union and the Nepal Trade Union Congress, one of the three major trade unions in the country, has been formed and asked to study the demands and submit its recommendations in 45 days.

UTL said it would be impossible to employ over 200 unskilled workers and if the impasse continues, its Indian mentors may decide to close shop in Nepal.

Eight percent UTL stakes are held by three major Indian PSUs: VSNL, MTNL and Telecommunications Consultants India Ltd.

The strike has cost the company over 200 million Nepali rupees. It is already smarting under an earlier loss of 4.4 billion Nepali rupees due to its lines being shut down during King Gyanendra’s direct rule.