June 24 , 2014
Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) on Monday organized a special gathering of members to collect their suggestions on two sets of demands placed by different unions of trekking workers.
The All Nepal Revolutionary Tourism Workers Union (ANRTWU) which is close to CPN-Maoist has padlocked TAAN Secretariat in Maligaun for nearly a month, putting forth different demands. Similarly, three other trade unions – Union of Trekking Travel Rafting and Airlines Workers Union (UNITRAV), All Nepal Tourism Workers Union and Nepal Tourism Workers Association have jointly placed another set of demands.
Among others, the workers unions have demanded for hike in salary and benefits, establishment of workers welfare fund, hike in insurance coverage and bonus.
Speaking at the program, TAAN General Secretary Sagar Pandey said they have already held talks with workers unions for more than a dozen times. “ANRTWU submitted the demands without fulfilling due procedures and padlocked TAAN Secretariat. Still, we are ready to resolve the issue for talks,” he said, adding, “We have all worker unions to come up with collective demands.”
TAAN has formed a nine-member taskforce under the leadership of Second Vice President Kul Bahadur Gurung. Immediage Past President Mahendra Singh Thapa, Secretary Pasang Sharma and Trade Union Department Coordinator Namaraj Gauli are the members in the committee from TAAN’s side. The taskforce also comprises of one representative each from all four trade unions. Madhuja Acharya, executive secretary of TAAN, is the member-secretary.
Kul Bahadur Gurung, coordinator of the taskforce, said they were for addressing genuine demands raised by the workers. “The taskforce will work as per the suggestions of the TAAN general members,” he added.
Presenting his suggestions, Rajendra Sapkota of Outdoor Himalayas termed the demand an act of provocation. “The demands were presented when we were protesting against irregularities in NTB. Also, the union padlocked TAAN Secretariat giving TAAN only two days to fulfill their demands. This is ridiculous,” he said, adding that most of the demands cannot be fulfilled. “You can raise wage of workers. But the new wage cannot be enforced from the coming season as most of us have already received booking for the new season.” Sapkota said he was positive on the demand for forming workers’ welfare fund.
Similarly, Dhan Bahadur Gurung of Nepal Alsace Treks said demands were placed without conducting necessary study. “Trekking is a seasonal business. How can companies hire workers on permanent basis?” he wondered. He also said trekking workers should be made responsible for any loss incurred by the company during the trek.
Karna Lama of Himalayan Yetiland Treks said TAAN should lobby with the government to provide food subsidy in eastern hilly areas in the country so that porters can have food at cheaper rates.
Rajan Simkhada of Earthbound Expeditions also said most of the demands placed by the workers were unscientific. “Demands for salary hike and formation of workers’ welfare fund are positive. TAAN should look into them,” other demands are ridiculous. He also asked TAAN to introduce code of ethics for workers so that they can be made accountable for loss incurred by the company due to their behavior. Simkhada also asked TAAN to do the needful for controlling menu prices in trekking areas. Saying that the present deadlock is because Nepal’s tourism is a seasonal business, he said if trekking is operated round the year no one will have time to involve in such petty issues. He also asked TAAN to apprise policymakers the importance of tourism industry in national economy.
Ganesh Simkhada of First Environment Trekking said trekkers were closing the door for their progress by saying that bank guarantee should be raised to Rs 2.5 million. “It seems that they want to work as porter/guide for life. Such a provision will make it impossible for them to open their own company,” he added. He also said most of the trekking companies will have to close business if the demands of trekking workers were addressed.
Saying that the demand to hire trekking workers on permanent basis would be impossible, Deepak Bastakoti of DJ’s Tourism Services said they can be hired on periodic contact basis instead. “But only after specifying their code of conducts. Agency cannot face loss because of the activities of the workers,” he added. He also said daily wage has to be raised accordingly taking into consideration inflation and other factors.
Similarly, Tilak Lama of Himaland Adventure Treks said we should seek facilitator/mediator for the talks if two sides cannot forge agreement at the earliest. “First we should study whether or not the demands put forth by the workers are justifiable. We should seek sustainable solution for the justifiable demands,” Lama said, adding, “If the demands are unjustifiable, there is no point having discussions with the workers.”
Bodhraj Bhandari of Snowy Horizon Treks said most of the demands are unjustifiable. “Hike in insurance coverage will only benefit insurance companies. We should focus on formation of workers’ welfare fund instead,” he said.
Devendra Wagley of Nepal Vision Treks said TAAN should sit for talks with the representative of worker unions only after lifting padlock from the TAAN Secretariat. “Invite all our member agencies. Let’s break the padlock in the presence of police,” he suggested. He also said TAAN president does not have the authority to raise wage and benefits of workers. He also demanded action against trekking workers who are illegally operating trekking groups through websites.
Rajkumar Thapa of A1 Excursion said trekking workers should padlock companies, which are not providing them wage and benefits as per the existing laws, instead of padlocking TAAN Secretariat.
Shiva Lamichhane of Nozomi Treks said salary and benefits should be fixed by the employer companies and workers. “If any dispute arises, concerned government agencies would look into the issue. TAAN shouldn’t be involved in this issue,” he added.
Chyaban Devkota of Manaslu Adventure, Govinda Panta of Adventure Pilgrims, Deepak Khanal of Osho World Adventure, Rishi Nepal of EncounterNepal.Com and Tej Bahadur Khadka of Himalayan Visiotrs Treks also spoke on the occasion.
In his speech, Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of Nepal Mountaineering Association, talked about challenges in operating expedition teams in Nepal.
Listening to the suggestions of the trekking entrepreneurs, TAAN President Ramesh Dhamala said the suggestions would work as the guidance for the TAAN executive committee. “The taskforce will come up with ways to resolve the issue. It would come into implementation only after it is endorsed by TAAN members,” he added.