In papers and principles, Nepal is the country that cares about the workers the most. The Labor Act (2017) requires employers to ensure a safe working environment for workers’ health and safety. This marked a major departure in Nepal’s labor laws for we did not have such provisions to guarantee safety of workers in the past. This Act requires the employers to keep workers safe from health hazards as well. And this Monday the government has set a monthly minimum wage for workers. Besides, we have advocated for the insurance of those working in construction sites. But in truth, we have failed to keep construction workers, who take up risky job out of poverty, from harm’s way and this apathy has led to their untimely deaths as well. The case in point is tragedy that occurred in Syangboche of Mustang district on Friday. At least least 20 persons, 14 male and six female, including 19 construction workers and the driver were killed and 12 others injured when a tipper carrying them skidded off the road and fell about 60 meters into a ravine in Upper Mustang. The tipper was taking the workers, working in Jomsom-Korala road extension project, back to the construction site after their lunch.
The locals have described the accident as the deadliest in this road section since the opening of the passage nine years ago. It is clear that construction companies involved in the project have not taken workers’ safety seriously. Otherwise they would have made a provision for their safe passage to and from their camp. Instead, they were being ferried in tipper. A better transportation means could have been arranged. Part of the reason why such accidents occur in the hill regions is that in upper hills, including in the northern hills, road digging is going on haphazardly. Villages are being bulldozed and permission has been issued to run the bus services along those risky roads. And local authorities, including the elected representatives, seem to be watching this chaos, helplessly.
We do not seem to have done a bare minimum to set basic safety standards for the workers. And we have been allowing the vehicles to ply along the dangerous roads in the hills without assessing their safety. As a result, a number of people are losing lives to accidents in rural roads across the country every year. When it comes to safety of construction workers, we need to do more than just formulating good laws and fixing their wages. Construction companies must take their safety seriously. Providing some amount of cash to the victims (the government has decided to provide Rs 500,000 cash as relief to each family of those killed in Mustang accident) will only provide some support to the victims’ families but this does not solve the problem in the long run. We need to develop a high level of sensitivity to protect workers from vulnerable sites and ensure that our roads, be it in the hills or the mountains, are safe to travel. Our deepest condolences are with the families of those who lost their loved ones in the deadliest accident.