NEPAL: Workers protest ADB-funded water project, demanding wages

10 September 2019 05:39

Five people were injured during conflict with the police at the demonstration.

On 5 September workers and small contractors on the Melamchi Water Supply Project staged a protest in which more than 350 people marched to the project site in Bagmati District, demanding millions of Nepali rupees in unpaid wages and benefits. Five people were injured during a scuffle that broke out with police, according to the Construction and Allied Workers’ Union of Nepal (CAWUN). The project is funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and aims to provide potable water directly into Kathmandu homes; however, poor management and contractor negligence have significantly delayed progress.

“It is now two decades since this project began, and sadly workers’ rights violations have been a consistent feature,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “While the necessary completion work is finally starting again, CAWUN members as well as contractors and suppliers are rightly demanding that outstanding unpaid wages and benefits are settled immediately, before work resumes. The ADB should be actively intervening in this case to ensure justice is done.”

The protest was directed at the original Italian Project contractor Cooperativa Muratori e Cementisti di Ravenna the (CMC), that abandoned the project, prompting the Government of Nepal to issue a termination letter in January 2019. This sudden departure, with less than 5 per cent of work remaining, left hundreds of workers deprived of wages and benefits.

The Nepalese Government has now rebid the project with the ADB's consent, granting the completion contract to Chinese contractor Sinohydro. However, workers, contractors and suppliers are demanding that their long pending dues from the previous contractor (CMC) need to be cleared first before construction resumes through a new contractor. The Government of Nepal had earlier formed a 14-member committee to look into the pending payments owed by the previous contractor and the committee collected claims worth over NPR 1.67 billion (USD $15,000) from at least 87 firms, but these are yet to be paid. The union is currently calculating the amount owing to workers.

“Our members have vowed to continue to their protest till their dues are settled,” said CAWUN General Secretary Pradip Acharya. "The Government Commissions’ recommendations should be implemented immediately; however, we also demand the ADB plays a more active role in ensuring there are no violations of its Safeguard Policy and that workers’ rights to decent work is protected.”