People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 09, 2006
M K Pandhe
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.
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.
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.
per cent of the payment would be made before March 31, 2006.
The second installment of 30 per cent would be paid before Diwali of 2006.
balance of 30 per cent would be paid by April 2007.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.