Manipal remains closed as Nepal trade unions up their demands

February 5th, 2009 - 5:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 5 (IANS) The Manipal College of Medical Sciences in western Nepal and the teaching hospital affiliated to it remained closed for the fourth day Thursday after talks between the authorities and the protesting trade unions broke down over allowances.A collaboration between India’s Manipal Group and the government of Nepal, the college and 700-bed hospital have been closed down by two trade unions affiliated to the ruling Maoist party as well as the opposition Nepali Congress since Monday over demands that the hospital authorities say are in violation of Nepal’s labour laws.

In 2007, when the Nepali Congress controlled the trade union, it demanded a 20 percent pay hike that was met by the authorities.

“We signed an agreement with the trade union that this arrangement would be valid till July 2009,” says B.M. Nagpal, dean at the medical college in Pokhara town in western Kaski district.

“But last year, the Maoist trade union made its debut and began demanding another 20 percent hike.”

The Maoist trade union claims it is asking the college and hospital to implement the newly revised minimum wages announced by the government last year. However, the authorities say that the pay received by the non-teaching staff has been more than the minimum wages fixed by the government.

“Since we don’t run the hospital at a profit, it is not viable for us to agree to yet another 20 percent hike,” says Nagpal. “However, we still agreed to pay an additional NRS 1,500.”

The capitulation triggered yet more demands from the trade unions, Nagpal says.

“Then they began asking us to pay their part of the provident fund contribution,” says Nagpal. “As per government rules, the employee contributes 10 percent and the employer matches it with another 10 percent and we have been doing that. But the unions began asking the hospital to contribute the entire 20 percent, which is totally illogical.”

Realising it to be a ploy for higher pay, the authorities finally agreed to pay an additional NRS 1,650 and a deal was struck Wednesday night.

But Thursday morning, when it was to be signed, the trade unions have come up with a new demand. Now they are asking for the pay hike to be retrospective from October 2008, when they had tabled the demand for a pay raise.

“Legally, we shouldn’t pay the new wages before July 2009,” says Nagpal. “But we agreed to relent on that too and pay higher wages four months earlier, from this month. Now if the trade unions try to make us pay retrospective wages from October, it is putting an immense pressure on us.”

The mood of the protesters is also turning nasty. On Thursday, they tried to prevent college officials from entering or leaving their offices.

Manipal is now asking the local administration to ensure security for its offices and officials.

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