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8 Oct 2018 | Blog

Facilitating Discussions between Government and Brick Kiln Entrepreneurs

Luja Mathema, Sugat Bajracharya & Kamala Gurung

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In Nepal, brick kilns are a part of the informal sector and a major contributor to the country’s economy. In order for the sector to function efficiently, it is important for policies and ground level realities to be aligned. In 2018, a team from the Clean Brick Initiative at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) visited brick kilns in various parts of Nepal to understand the complex situation in which brick factories operate. The main objective was to facilitate discussion between brick entrepreneurs and the government of Nepal to formulate labour-friendly policies and strategies.

The team visited Dhading, Rupandehi (Province 5), and Kanchanpur (Province 7). This article outlines findings of the visits to Rupandehi and Kanchanpur, where the ICIMOD team met representatives from the Rupandehi and Mahakali Brick Entrepreneurs’ Associations. The team engaged in dialogue with brick entrepreneurs and workers in order to gain an understanding of brick kiln operations from their perspectives. These interactions highlighted inconsistencies between policy and everyday issues faced by male and female workers – in terms of their working and living conditions, and the consequences to their livelihoods, as well as the need to create awareness among workers about the difficult conditions they work in.

At present, the regulations that are applicable to the agri-business sector also apply to the brick sector. Brick entrepreneurs maintain that such overarching policies cannot be expected to regulate distinct sectors as there are major differences in situation and context. On the other hand, brick factory workers do not have the awareness and tools needed to make informed decisions about whether or not to use safety gear as required by policy. A startling illustration of this was when kiln workers told the team that they prefer not to wear gloves and gumboots – mandatory by policy – as these are “impractical and hinder (their) work”.

Even when brick kilns do have specific rules and regulations, their practical implementation is not always certain. The Occupational Safety and Health (OHS) Directive for Brick Kiln Workers outlines specific requirements for shelters for brick kiln workers – the bedroom should be 8ft-10ft-8ft and the workplace should be less than 35 ˚C. One worker in Rupandehi said, “We do have access to building materials for our shelters, but we use only what we need.” The workers say that they choose to make their shelters small as it is difficult to keep a larger shelter warm during the winter months. In most instances, the temporary shelters were dire, with no doors for privacy. Where doors existed, they were made of corrugated sheet metal and had no locks.

The minimum temperature through the duration of the visit was 36 ˚C, increasing to 41 ˚C over the course of our stay in the far-west region. While the government has created regulations to improve the living conditions of workers, one size does not fit all and differences need to be considered and accounted for. The need for coordination is paramount. Brick kiln entrepreneurs say that government packages and regulations would help them adapt improved technology – as requested by the government – by fostering a supportive environment. This, in turn, would decrease emissions and contribute to a cleaner environment.

Lack of adequate dialogue between policy makers, brick entrepreneurs, and workers has created incongruities. The social component team of ICIMOD’s Clean Brick Initiative is working on creating a platform for dialogue between the government and brick entrepreneurs to ensure that both actors have a space for discussing the issues they face and working towards possible solutions.

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