Where was the Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FNCCI) when Surya Nepal recently closed its garment unit due to prolonged labour union disputes?
Well, let's see. They issued a boilerplate in which they worried about how the shutdown might scare other foreign investors. They requested the government and the related parties to create a favourable climate for industries. They expressed deep worries.
If this is all that FNCCI can do in times of militant labour unions, how is it ever going to fulfill its mission of 'facilitating Nepali businesses become globally competitive', let alone execute its vision of 'leading the nation's economic progress'? Surely, boring press releases will not make this country competitive.
To be fair, last March, the FNCCI brought the three trade unions – the Maoist-backed All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), the Nepali Congress-backed Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUC) and the UML-backed General Federation of Trade Unions of Nepal (GeFONT) – together to sign that there would be no pay for work not done.
But just as Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal winked to bless his cadres' call for various bandas across the country, despite signing a no banda agremment, the union affiliated with his party followed the lead, signed one thing in the spring and did just the opposite in the summer at the garment factory. This about-face was a show of force between the two factions among the Maoists – one led by the Honorable Member of the Constituent Assembly Shalikram Jammakattel, and the other by Badri Bajgain.
This is the time for the FNCCI to stand tall on its claim that it represents the interests of all law-abiding businesses and summon courage to call a spade a spade. It should not be lathering itself up with platitudes. It should take off the gloves, and join hands with wider civil society groups that too are tired watching a few politically-protected goons hold everyone's future hostage in their own country.
The questions that the FNCCI should put forth loudly and clearly through all forms of media are: What right do these union leaders have to play with job security of more than 600 workers, most of whom are poor women who were often paid above-the-market wages? Who are they to deprive the nation of tax revenues? And what makes them think that they can continue to portray their own country as a dangerous place to do business with, if their intention is not to always keep it poor, hungry and chaotic?
Who, with half a brain on his head, wants to negotiate with uncompromisingly unprincipled union netas who are so cocksure in their belief that if violence got them the political power, violence will also help them make the sun rise from the west?
To be sure, hyper-educated Maoist lawmakers such as Hari Roka will leap to the comrades' defense. He will accuse, as he has, the company for not paying taxes and of myriad other violations. In that case, the FNCCI's cool answer should be: "Fine. Prove your charges in a court of law. If you can't do so, then, don't spread lies. Meantime, go draft the constitution, the job for which taxpayers have been piling you and your colleagues with money."
The FNCCI can use Surya Garment's example to play safe and be irrelevant. Or, it can make an effort to pacify the increasingly impatient public frustration that something has gone deeply wrong in this country.
Making paper while the sun shines