Laid-off Nepal workers follow in Hazare’s shoes

Scores of militant workers, whose hostilities forced ITC’s joint venture in Nepal to shut down its state-of-the-art garments factory in the Terai plains last month, have now begun to emulate Indian civil society activist Anna Hazare, beginning a fast in front of the factory to pressure the authorities to re-start the venture.

The workers, the majority of whom are women, started a relay hunger strike in front of Surya Nepal’s garments factory in Morang district in eastern Nepal from Monday after the authorities announced they were shutting down the venture following a protracted lock-out due to an attack by the workers.

Surya Nepal, Nepal’s biggest tax-paying company, decided to close its garments factory, constructed with an investment of about NRS 300 million, after workers, demanding pay for an earlier period when they had gone on strike, took 37 administrative staff captive, refusing to allow them food or even water for 24 hours.

They also vandalised the factory, resulting in the deployment of police to rescue the imprisoned employees.

The factory had been producing ITC’s John Players and Springwood garment labels as well as catering to the European and American markets.

Frequent work disruptions led to the cancellation of all orders from abroad, Surya Nepal said.

When the company announced a lockout soon after the rampage in June, neither Nepal’s government nor the chambers of commerce intervened. However, after the blue chip company that also produces nearly 70 percent of cigarettes in Nepal decided to shut down the garments factory, there has been a hue and cry.

Sanjiv Keshava, Surya Nepal’s managing director, has said the factory would not be re-opened and that Surya Nepal would be looking at other investments in Nepal.

Keshava said the security of staff was a prime consideration of the company and when that was in jeopardy, it could not think of continuing.

Last week, the militant workers tried to enforce a traffic halt in Morang as a protest.

Surya Nepal, in which ITC holds 59 percent stake, diversified into garments in 2004 and the factory was built in 2007.

The closure of the garments factory has been noted with concern by foreign investors and has tarnished Nepal’s image as a possible destination for investment.

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