Friday, 7 October, 2022

Social Protection in Nepal  : Current Status, Major Concerns


Sandhya Thapa

Our constitution has provisioned that getting allowances is the people's right under social protection provisions. Senior citizens, the poor, the Dalits, the helpless, people with disabilities and with severe forms of disabilities, single women, and endangered caste are entitled to receive social allowances as per the fiscal programme of the government of Nepal. The Nepali charter ensures social protection as a fundamental right to reduce poverty and vulnerability in Article 34.

The constitution has included the Employment Act 2075 to actualise a fundamental right. Contributory Social Protection Rules 2075 have been implemented based on the Contributory Social Protection Act 2074 to succour to equitable labour relations, poverty reduction, and industrial stability. Considering the significance of social protection, the previous Government of Nepal announced Social Protection Day on 11 Mangsir 2074.
Social protection is a collective form of cash, service, assistance, concession, and facilities in addition to any policies and programmes brought by the government or private sector to increase income or consumption to dilute the risk to livelihood of the poor or marginalised citizens. Social protection is a concept based on the belief that those who can contribute to income generation must be ensured through social insurance and those who are unable to contribute get ensured through social assistance for a secure present and future.

We cherish the moves taken in the field of social protection within the changed setting when the world is confronting challenges like COVID-19 by the government of Nepal. Stakeholders call upon the government to make a notable contribution to the concerned bodies and partners, increasing the equal access of all to social protection and playing an effective role in fulfilling the national resolve of prosperous Nepal.

Implementation Status
Social protection is an individual’s right and also a responsibility of the state. However, the contribution-based social protection fund launched by the government as a socialist-oriented programme is still to meet with the expected success. The Social Protection Fund enlisted organisations and the number of anticipated workers has not been expanded and the deadline set by the government has been exceeded several times causing a low amount in the social protection fund.

More than nine hundred thousand formal organisations are employing 2.7 million in our country. Institutionally run large organisations have participated but banks, private schools, cooperatives, and other small organisations have not been listed in the social protection fund. One of the first reasons is that not all employers have yet come into the Savings Fund. The second reason is, not all employers have provided minimum incentives and facilities allocated by the Government of Nepal. Because they have to provide the minimum incentive and they have to add 20 % from their side. Third, employers seem to be attempting to counterbalance the 1.67% extra burden on those who have stored within the provident fund and who are deducting the allowance themselves.

Employers appear to be renouncing their commitment towards tripartite agreements between employers, the government, and trade unions to create an industrial environment. There is still disarray regarding the nature of the Employee Provident Fund, Citizens Investment Fund, and Social Protection Fund.

Although there are numerous provisions for workers in the formal (civil) sector, workers in the informal sector, which possesses more than 84% of the populace, are still to be provided with social protection arrangements. Hence, social protection should be provided not only to certain beneficiary communities but also to all stakeholders.
Such protection should be equal for all to develop tools for prevention, protection, promotion, and transformation, centring education, health, and employment for senior citizens, healthy and unhealthy, rich and poor communities. Meanwhile, economic security, production and distribution, and access to the labour market must be transformed into organizational structures that contribute to inclusive and sustainable economic development.

The legal provision to tax the amount contributed to the social protection fund should end immediately. In addition, the facilities provided to the contribution-based pension system for the government employees and the benefits available to depositors in social protection funds are four times different.

According to a report submitted to the government by the Bankers' Association, a government employee earning Rs 100,000 gets a monthly pension of Rs 40,000 after working for 20 years. It is seen that the private sector employees who have worked the same salary and service period will get four times less monthly pension from the social protection fund. It seems necessary for the Government of Nepal to clarify the matter.

A policy of positive discrimination has been adopted for Dalit and single women senior citizens and some remote districts among the target groups receiving social security benefits. According to the provisions of the procedure, single women under the age of 60 and persons with severe disabilities, who were receiving allowances in the past, have been deprived of receiving allowances due to the provisions of the Act. In the case of single women above 60 years of age is included among the eligible senior citizens, it seems that there is injustice against single women under 60 years. It should be clarified immediately as there will be a situation where someone will get double benefit and someone will not get it at all.

Our government and the Social Welfare Council have called upon all non-governmental organisations to join the Social Protection Fund through a public notice on August 10, 2010. However, the NGOs, through their umbrella organisation NGO Federation, demanded necessary amendments to the Social Protection Act, Rules, and Procedures. This is because the provision of not getting a facility even after depositing funds for 3 months is impractical and unfair.

Although the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens is the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens to do the work for the benefit of the citizens designated as beneficiaries by the Social Protection Act, keeping the department under the Ministry of Home Affairs does not seem appropriate in terms of effectiveness. If the registration work closely related to citizenship and national identity card was kept at the Ministry of Home Affairs and the social protection allowance programme was placed under the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens or the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Protection, its effectiveness would increase.

Employers and Entrepreneurs
Employment opportunities should not be snatched away from the workers for any reason like COVID-19. Regularly disinfecting the workplace and regularizing employment with adequate and appropriate arrangements for workers' health care are necessities. Justice is the totality of principles, methods, and subjects based on the truth invented by society. The campaign should be based on the premise that this is the behaviour of one person to another rationally. Employees of Nepal Rastra Bank, Nepal Protection Board, Insurance Committee and other autonomous regulatory bodies, government-owned institutions, and private sector listed public companies have already come under the purview of some social protection programmes.
To bring the issue of workers and those affected by traditional slavery (Harvacharwa, Mukta Haliya, Mukta Kamaiya, Balighare) and modern slavery (child labour, domestic labour, adult recreational workers, workers in foreign employment) into the social protection scheme by including them in social dialogue and tripartite dialogue. The agenda should be made and lobbied.

Furthermore, confusion has arisen among employees working in the banking and financial sector. They have filed a writ. In the writ filed in this regard, the Supreme Court has already rejected the interim order as it was not against the constitution. It seems to be beneficial to conclude by holding a frank discussion that the benefit of any worker should not be deducted because of the workers' affiliation to the Social Protection Fund.
Social protection is a multifaceted and dynamic concept. Therefore, a civic campaign should be launched to publicise the concept that it is the right of the common people and not the charity of the employed. At the same time, in the context of the Government of Nepal's implementation of a contribution-based social security programme, the role of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in advancing state policy towards a perpetual social protection system, focusing on the concept of social protection floor, should play a role.

About 70% of the workers in the informal sector are yet to have social protection arrangements and for the rest of the other workers, it is costly to go to the district court from the local level, so not only for the certain beneficiary communities but also all stakeholders should be involved in social protection by conducting civic campaigns and engaging non-governmental organizations in social protection.

Key Purpose
The main purpose of Social Protection is to guarantee the security of food, shelter, and clothing of the workers as well as to pay more attention to the areas where there is widespread employment exploitation.
To solve this problem, the services provided to the consumers should be guaranteed by law and the pension should be increased more than the prescribed amount.
Also, the tax issues should be addressed, discrimination between the government workers and other employees should be eliminated and provision should be made for unconditional withdrawal of all amounts deposited in one's name. Meanwhile, a refund of money deposited as property of workers should be made clear in the Act.

(The writer is associated with Social Protection Civil Society Network)