Nepal: ITUC-NAC asserts trade unions’ central role in development

May 2024
United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals, Timefor8

In a landmark event aimed at strengthening and highlighting trade unions’ role in development, trade unions affiliated to the ITUC-Asia Pacific and the International Trade Union Confederation – Nepal Affiliates Council (ITUC-NAC) convened in Kathmandu, Nepal on 19-20 May 2024 for a valuable workshop titled "Time for 8, Time to Build Trade Unions' Capacity to Accelerate the SDGs." The event aimed to enhance the role of trade unions in driving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) forward, with special focus on the SDG 8 on decent work and economic growth.

ITUC-NAC affiliates with the UN Resident Coordinator of Nepal, Ms Hanaa Singer-Hamdy

Leave no one behind: Commitment from trade unions and the UN Resident Coordinator

Held over two days, the workshop focused on equipping trade unions with the knowledge and tools needed to actively engage in the Agenda 2030 processes. With participation from notable trade union leaders, the event highlighted the critical intersection between labour rights and sustainable development.

The workshop commenced with stirring opening remarks from Jagat Bahadur Simkhada, President of All Nepal Trade Union Federation (ANTUF), Yogendra Kunwar, President of Nepal Trade Union Congress (NTUF), and Binod Shrestha, President of General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT). Their speeches underscored the urgency of integrating trade unions’ voices and recognising trade unions’ critical role in achieving the SDGs and ensuring their involvement in development policies and processes, including the formulation and implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.

Gracing the inaugural session of the workshop, the UN Resident Coordinator of Nepal, Ms Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, delivered a keynote address that set a hopeful tone for the event and emphasised the essential role of trade unions in achieving the SDGs.

“Beyond SDG 8, trade unions are deeply committed to the founding principles of the Agenda 2030. You, in trade unions, have consistently raised your voices to demand that decent living standards be guaranteed through increased public spending and investment, strong social protection, universal health coverage, and access to housing and education. You constantly remind us that tax systems need to be adjusted to ensure fair taxation that lifts the burden off those most vulnerable and places it on the wealthiest, while supporting the ecological transition process,” Singer-Hamdy said.

UNRC for Nepal, Ms Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, delivers her Keynote Address at the workshop's inaugural session. Also in the photo are the ITUC-NAC Presidents (from left): Binod Shrestha (GEFONT), Jagat Bahadur Simkhada (ANTUF), and Yogendra Kunwar (NTUC).

She concluded her remarks by quoting Asa Philip Randolph, “The essence of the trade union movement is social uplift. The labour movement has been the haven for the dispossessed, the despised, the neglected, the downtrodden, the poor.” On this note, she called on everyone to work together to enhance the capacity of trade unions to accelerate the SDGs and to reach those furthest behind.

Lessons from trade unions’ national, regional and global SDG advocacy

The workshop featured a series of panel discussions and presentations addressing the multifaceted ways in which trade unions can engage in SDG processes at national, regional, and global levels. Diverse experiences and strategies were presented by invited speakers.

  • National-level engagement: Repon Chowdhury from Bangladesh Free Trade Union Congress shared the experiences of his union in developing a shadow report to the government’s voluntary national report, sustaining a regular dialogue with the UN Resident Coordinator of Bangladesh, engaging with other UN agencies beyond the International Labour Organization, and contributing to the trade unions’ campaign and advocacy efforts at the regional and global levels.

    Meanwhile, Julius Cainglet from the Federation of Free Workers in the Philippines imparted the lessons that they learned from their longstanding and sustained advocacy on SDGs, such as the importance of engaging government agencies outside of the Labour Ministry, strengthening the engagement with UN agencies, building trade union unity that could push of collective workers’ positions and recommendations, and forming alliances with civil society organisations (CSOs) to counter the shrinking civic space.
  • Regional-level engagement: Joy Hernandez, Senior Communications and Advocacy Officer of ITUC-Asia Pacific, discussed opportunities for trade unions to influence regional SDG agendas through participation in the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD). She also highlighted the benefits of linking with CSOs in the regional advocacy for the SDGs, such as by being part of the Asia-Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (APRCEM). Bidur Karki of GEFONT and Sanjay Dahal of NTUC also shared their reflections from their participation in this year’s Asia-Pacific Peoples’ Forum on Sustainable Development and the APFSD.
  • Global campaign and advocacy: Giulia Massobrio, Coordinator of the Trade Union Development Cooperation Network, highlighted the ITUC’s advocacy efforts in global platforms like the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the Summit of the Future, and the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions. She also highlighted the different advocacy tools that ITUC produces to support trade unions in their national, regional and global advocacies – namely, the SDG country reports and the ITUC Global Monitor on SDG 8. She also shared about the #Timefor8 campaign initiative of ITUC, which is aimed at promoting the centrality of the Decent Work Agenda and the role of the workers in achieving the SDGs.

Opportunities to strengthen trade union’s SDG advocacy in Nepal

Aiming to increase the level of engagement of trade unions in SDG processes, the workshop also explored opportunities for trade union advocacy at various spaces, including in the government and the UN.  

Ms Anita Paudel, Programme Director at Nepal’s National Planning Commission (NPC), presented the process of coming up with the voluntary national report as well as the progress of Nepal in the implementation of the SDGs. Understanding the role of NPC in the national development planning, trade unions identified opportunities for engagement in the future to advocate for their priorities, including SDG 8.

Ms Anita Paudel, Programme Director of the National Planning Commission, presents Nepal's VNR process.

Meanwhile, Mr Numan Özcan, Country Director of the ILO Office for Nepal, explained the importance of trade union participation in the formulation of the UNSDCF and the Decent Work Country Programme, especially in the context of the UN Reform process and in accelerating the SDGs. He identified opportunities and channels for trade union participation and offered practical advice and strategies to maximise such opportunities and ensure meaningful engagement.

Country Director of the ILO Office for Nepal, Numan Özcan, shares ways by which trade unions can engage in UN development processes.

Furthermore, the participants of the workshop learned the perspectives and experiences of CSOs in engaging in SDG processes and possibilities for CSO-trade union collaboration through the presentation of Mr Daya Sagar Shrestha, Executive Director of National Campaign for Sustainable Development – Nepal and focal point of the South Asia Sub-Regional Constituency of the APRCEM.

The ITUC-NAC affiliates with the Director of ILO Office for Nepal, Mr Numan Özcan

Ways forward: Stronger commitment and collaboration

One of the workshop's key outcomes was the establishment of a direct connection with the UN Resident Coordinator, fostering a new avenue for dialogue and collaboration. Trade unions also built stronger linkages with civil society organizations that are active in the VNR process, potentially leading to enhancing their collective impact and influence on SDG implementation. Trade unions left with a deeper understanding of the SDGs and a greater appreciation of their role as defenders of social justice in the national global development landscape.

The workshop concluded with a resounding commitment from participants to sustain and expand their work on the SDGs. Action plans were made to raise awareness on SDGs and initiate regular dialogues with the UNRC, ILO, National Planning Commission, and Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security on development issues.

Shoya Yoshida, General Secretary of the ITUC-Asia Pacific said, "This event marked a significant step forward in asserting and upholding trade unions' roles as development actors, promising strengthened collaboration and impactful action towards accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure a more just and sustainable future for all."

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