People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXX

No. 15

April 09, 2006

Successful Non-Cooperation Agitation By Coal Workers

 

                                                                                                            M K Pandhe

THE seventh National Coal Wage Agreement (NCWA-VII) signed on July 15, 2005 was unique in the sense that it threw overboard the guidelines issued by the Department of Public Enterprises for wage negotiations in public sector undertakings. The five lakh coal workers could achieve full neutralisation in DA for a five-year settlement though the government guideline was that the workers would be entitled for a full neutralisation only if they sign a 10-year settlement. Most of the public sector undertakings were forced to sign 10-year settlements due to this guideline.

 

The second guideline of the government was also ignored in the agreement which provided that the sick units like ECL and BCCL would also be paid the same wages as provided in the national wage agreement. The DPE guideline provided that the sick units referred to BIFR would not be given wage rise till they are out of the BIFR network.

           

The NCWA-VII provided that the modalities of the wage arrears payment would be jointly decided by the coal management and the unions. After protracted negotiations it was agreed on February 20, 2006 in a meeting of the standardisation committee that the Rs 8000 crore arrears payment would be made in the following manner.

 

The CIL management made all preparations for making the payment to the individual workers. However the bureaucrats in the coal ministry turned down the proposal agreed jointly in the coal industry. The meeting of the standardisation committee held on March 20, 2006 failed to announce the payment which roused strong resentment among the coal workers all over the country. The coal ministry objected to payment of wage arrears to ECL and BCCL workers on the ground that the package of revival prepared by the managements and approved by the coal ministry provided for payment of arrears to the workers in ECL and BCCL in 36 installments!

 

The five federations in coal industry owing allegiance to INTUC, CITU, AITUC, HMS and BMS wrote a letter to the union coal minister Sibu Soren protesting against the obdurate policy of the ministry and informed him about the decision of the five federations to launch a non-cooperation agitation from March 27, 2006.

The convention of coal workers held in Asansol, West Bengal on March 25 endorsed the call given by the federations and coal workers all over the country welcomed the united call to oppose this policy of the coal ministry. Accordingly, notices were sent to the managements of all the coal companies.

 

The trade unions raised the issue of reckless outsourcing resorted to by the coal managements who were paying paltry wages to the workers working under contractors. Several mafias have been given the operational jobs in coal mines who violate all the labour laws and trample underfoot TU rights of workers.

 

BACKDOOR PRIVATISATION

 

Coal India has offered several blocks to private parties at the instance of the coal ministry, which virtually amounted to privatisation through the backdoor. The government has been considering the proposal to permit captive mine holders to sell coal in the market at lesser price than Coal India by paying much less wages. Instead of developing coal mines in India, Coal India has decided to take lease of mines in foreign countries to produce coal and import it into the country. The Coal Mines Planning and Designs Institute (CMPDI), which was established to explore for coal mines and prepare designs for new mines is being separated from Coal India with a view to ultimately privatise it. The trade unions have opposed these policies of the government and demanded their reversal.

 

Faced with the possibility of stoppage of production and dispatch of coal in all the mines, the coal ministry was forced to give clearance to the joint proposals regarding modalities of arrears payment but referred the matter to the Election Commission. Had the ministry given the clearance without delay, this situation would not have arisen at all. The Election Commission informed its opposition to the payment of arrears till the election process was over. In the same period the central government announced additional 3 per cent DA to all the government employees! Some of the public sector undertakings made payments to workers in the same period. Hence the trade unions were not happy with the decision of the Election Commission. The arrears payment was not any additional concession being given during the election campaign. It was a part of the hard-won earnings of the workers. Moreover, this payment would not give any advantage to any political party during the election campaign since trade unions of all affiliations were involved in the agreement. Moreover, the decision to make the payment was taken prior to the announcement of the election process.

 

The non-cooperation agitation was successful all over India. The managements of WCL, SECL, NCL, MCL and CCL were prepared to pay the wage arrears to their workers. But the workers all over the country stood firm on their stand that they would take the payment along with their brothers in ECL and BCCL. The remarkable solidarity expressed by the workers in profit making coal companies has greatly contributed in making non-cooperation movement successful.

 

 The management of BCCL tried to intimidate the workers for their united action by issuing show cause notices but the workers did not pay any attention to the managementís threats during the non-cooperation agitation.

 

The chairman of Coal India issued a stereotyped appeal to workers asking them not to resort to agitational approach. However, all the trade unions unanimously rejected this appeal in view of the anti-working class stand adopted by the coal ministry. The non-cooperation agitation went on successfully in all the mines which forced  the coal minister to convene a meeting of the coal federations to consider the issues involved in the dispute. Accordingly, a meeting was held in Ranchi on March 29 in the campus of Indian Institute of Coal Mines.

 

The union coal minister Sibu Soren at the outset stated that he was under the impression that the arrears payment was being made and mentioned about his trade union background and said that he was in favour of settling the dispute amicably. The representatives of trade unions strongly criticised the dilatory tactics adopted by the coal ministry, which resulted in the non-cooperation agitation of the workers. The ministry did not even refer the settlement to the minister for his approval. It was only after the announcement of non-cooperation agitation that the clearance was given.

 

The trade unions further raised the question of several unilateral decisions of the coal ministry. They also reiterated their opposition to the pending bill in parliament regarding denationalisation of coal industry.

 

AGREEMENT WITH THE MINISTER

 

The trade unions demanded raising the percentage of arrears payment if it is delayed until the election process is over. The minister agreed to raise it to 50 per cent instead of 40 per cent as agreed earlier. The payment would be made immediately after the election process is over in May. The two balance installments would be of 25 per cent each. He further agreed to inquire into the causes of delay in giving consent by the ministry to the joint modalities fixed about the arrears payment on February 20, 2006.

 

Regarding other issues relating to the working of the coal industry, the minister agreed to hold a separate meeting with the trade unions and discussed these issues with a view to arrive at a common understanding. He further assured the trade unions that there would be no victimisation for participating in the non-cooperation agitation. The trade unions stressed that they would like to approach the Election Commission to underline the unjust nature of its decision not to make the payment of arrears till the election process is completed. However, the chairman of Coal India expressed his inability for a joint representation to the Election Commission.

           

In view of the agreement arrived at in the meeting with the minister of coal, the trade unions agreed to call off the non-cooperation agitation. The representative of BMS could not attend the meeting. However the union conveyed its agreement with the proposals worked out in the joint meeting.

 

The coal workers all over India resumed normal work after the agreement with a sense of victory. They have defeated the dilatory tactics adopted by the top-heavy administration of the coal ministry in denying them their rightful dues.