Chandi Raj Dhakal, the first vice president of the FNCCI spoke to Nepali Times on Wednesday night after the Maoist labour union called off the forced closure of industries and a compromise was reached. He is glad, but says the nation paid a heavy price for the month-long closures.
Nepali Times: Was this a stopgap compromise, are industries going to be bombed and closed again?
Chandi Raj Dhakal: I think it is a lasting agreement. For the past few days we have been in touch with the Maoist-affiliated ANFTU through human rights activists. We also held direct talks with them. We had to wait for the government's response to the Maoist demands. There was also pressure from workers and industrialists who had given a deadline to open the industries by Friday, even if the ANTFU did not called off the closure.
So there won't be any more closures?
There is no guarantee as such. The student wing of the Maoist rebels had called off the strike in schools and yet schools in some areas continue to be affected. But we must be restrained and take the Maoist move positively. We have no choice but to trust that they will never obstruct industries again. On the top of that, this time we have received the Maoist leaders' commitment in black and white. We convinced them that in an age of globalisation if we close down industries we will always lag behind.
What are the accumulated losses of the past month of closures?
Everyday the government was losing around Rs 120 million in revenue. The industries have seen damages of around Rs 1.5 billion. We have yet to estimate the indirect losses to production, transportation, distribution and so many other sectors. Once the industries resume operations, perhaps the figures will be made public. More than 150,000 workers had been directly affected and many more indirectly.
Has the business community agreed to the Maoists' labour demands?
We have made commitments to discuss issues ANTFU has raised once industries reopen. Some of their demands related to the rights of workers may have been reasonable. But, given the circumstances we are living in and the trouble the economy is facing, we may not be in a position to fulfill all the demands even if we wish to. Other trade unionists have understood these problems and they have been cooperating. We believe that ANTFU will also understand the problems our industries are facing and cooperate.
Have you agreed to raise the minimum wage to Rs 5,000?
There have been no talks about wages, so far. We will continue our discussion with them as we did in the past.
But how will you talk to them if the government calls them terrorists?
We will request the government withdraw the red corner notice on the ANTFU leaders who will be sitting for talks with us. When we sit for talks, we will also involve other trade unions.
The government has blamed industrialists for helping boost the morale of the Maoists by closing down industries despite security assurances.
Nepalis today live with uncertainity. We are not safe even in our homes. Under such circumstances, how can we open our industries even if the government gives security assurances? It is not just about opening industries. We need to transport raw materials to our factories for manufacturing and later for distribution. It is impossible to work when there is the threat of violence.