Nepal’s Constitution recognises the fundamental right of workers to associate freely, form and participate in unions, and bargain collectively. The country’s Labour Act and Trade Union Act codify these constitutional rights in law, for workers in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. The two Acts set out the process of formation of trade unions and collective bargaining committees, and outline a range of occupational rights for both self-employed and salaried workers across a number of industries. The Labour Act also protects workers’ right to strike following the failure of a mandatory 21-day mediation period, although it withdraws this right from employees in certain essential sectors such as healthcare, banking, transportation and security. Despite these gains, it falls short of international labour standards by failing to provide adequate protection against anti-union discrimination, promotion of collective bargaining and compulsory arbitration. Although politicised, Nepal’s workers’ movement is vibrant and has continued to grow in the past two decades, with unions generally being able to operate and engage publicly on labour reforms without state interference. The General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT) is active in its efforts to protect the rights of Nepali migrant workers abroad, and has signed an agreementwith partners in Kuwait that has succeeded in getting anti-union clauses removed from model employment contracts. Still, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has placed Nepal for the last two years in the category of countries that regularly violate trade union rights. This is the result of inadequate legal protections and an observed shrinking space for civil society in the country, with rising cases of arrests of trade unionists and other civil society actors.
Freedom of association is guaranteed under Qatar’s Constitution, but the country’s legislation fails to give application to that right. Only Qatari nationals are entitled to form or join associations or workers’ committees, meaning that the overwhelming majority of the country’s workers – foreign migrants – remain unable to bargain collectively. Qatar’s Labour Law envisages the establishment of one trade union, made up of various workers’ committees representing different trades, but it has not been established. Signs of positive change began in 2015 with the establishment of Workers’ Welfare Forums by the Supreme Committee of Delivery and Legacy and its contractors, in the context of preparations to the FIFA World Cup, followed by the establishment – with the support of ILO – of joint worker-employer committees
in 20 companies in which workplace issues can be discussed, including recruitment-related irregularities, since 2019. Both the ITUC and BWI have attested to the genuine engagement of ADLSA in these developments. While the joint committees are not a substitute for trade unions with collective bargaining status, the government has allowed five international unions and federations to operate in Qatar, seemingly without obstruction, although their mandate is limited to the terms set out in the ILO cooperation agreement. 2020 saw Qatar move from the ITUC’s category of countries with no guarantee of workers’ rights, to one with systematic violations of those rights. Given the starting point, these developments, when taken together, are positive. That said, changes have been limited to a relatively small number of major companies and large public bodies. Smaller companies, where abuse is known to be widespread and protections are weaker, still lack any form of legitimised worker representation. In May 2021 Uniglobal, the global union representing security guards, expressed alarm alongside civil society organisations when Malcolm Bidali, a Kenyan security guards who had blogged about his experiences was detained incommunicado by Qatari security agencies for reasons unknown. At the time of writing in June 2021 he had been released from detention but his legal situation remained unclear.
Recommendations to the Government of Nepal:
- Ensure that worker organisations including trade unions are able to participate in the development and review of legislation relating to migrant workers, as well in review and oversight mechanisms related to bilateral agreements.
- Ensure that diplomatic missions are tasked to protect any migrant worker in a destination state subject to retaliatory measures as a result of worker organising.
Recommendations to the Government of Qatar:
- Withdraw reservations submitted alongside Qatar’s ratification of the ICESCR and amend the 2004 Labour Law to allow migrant workers to join and form trade unions.
- Ensure that worker organisations can participate in the development and review of legislation relating to migrant workers, as well in review and oversight mechanisms related to bilateral agreements.
- Remove all legal restrictions on migrant workers’ right to strike and prohibit retaliatory actions against anyone exercising that right or any other action to peacefully promote migrant workers' rights.