People's Democracy

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


No. 14

April 04, 2010

Coal Workers to Strike against Disinvestment


                                                                                                M K Pandhe


MEETING at Ranchi on March 27, five recognised federations of coal workers in the country, viz Indian National Mine Workers Federation (INTUC), All India Coal Workers Federation (CITU), Indian Mine Workers Federation (AITUC), Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation (HMS) and Akhil Bharatiya Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), have called for observing a three-day strike on May 5-7, 2010. The strike is to take place on a nine point charter of demands including a halt to the government of India�s decision to disinvest the shares of Coal India and its subsidiaries coal companies.

The government of India brought a bill to denationalise the coal industry more than seven years ago. However, due to the indefinite strike threat by all the coal unions, the government could not bring the bill for consideration in parliament. Thus it failed to disinvest any share in the stock market due to the united resistance from coal workers.

When the government gave the Coal India the navaratna (nine jewels) status, it said at the same time that it would disinvest its holdings in the share market. Recently, the union government announced its intention for the same, to get Rs 10,000 crore to meet its budgetary deficit.




The Coal India had given to the government of India over Rs 2200 crore as dividend this year.  There was thus absolutely no justification for selling the shares in the market. The intention of the government is to dispose of 49 per cent of equity in the share market with a view to ultimately privatising the Coal India. The trade unions clearly say this is a game of step by step privatisation of the coal industry.

The management has decided to give a part of the share holdings to workers with a view to making them accept the policy of disinvestment. However, trade unions have rejected this proposal and oppose all steps towards disinvestment.

The nine point charter of demands prepared by the trade unions in the meeting has said a flat No to the disinvestment of shares of Coal India and Singareni Collieries in the market. The Coal India is planning to bring the shares to the market in July or August this year. The trade unions are determined to stop this process through united working class actions.

Coal India chairman Partho S Bhattacharya was holding meetings of workers appealing them to allow the sale of shares. He offered to the workers five per cent discount on the market value of the shares. He said shares worth Rs 69.17 crore would be placed in the market as the initial offering. He even offered shares worth Rs one lakh to every worker who is prepared them. He hopes to get for Coal India the status of a maha-navaratna company after offloading its shares in the market. He also offered shares to the land-losers who had given land to Coal India.  However, workers are opposing the disinvestment policy itself.

Unions also want stop to further outsourcing of Coal India operations. Today nearly half the production in coal industry is done through outsourcing and contractisation. These contractors� workers are ill-paid and deprived of all statutory benefits. They account for about 40 per cent of employment in the industry. The unions have demanded that contract workers doing jobs of a permanent and perennial nature must be regularised and others must get the wages and other benefits as provided in the national coal wage agreement. Coal India is in fact illegally engaging contract workers, with the union labour ministry conniving in it to allow this arbitrary practice.




Unions have demanded stop to allotment of virgin coal blocks to private sector. The union government has allotted over 200 coal blocks to the private sector and coal mafias who pay extremely low wages and mercilessly exploit the coal workers. The blocks given to the private sector altogether have a reserve of over 60 billion tonnes of coal.

Though the government has given coal blocks to private operators, many of the latter have not commenced production though their agreement period is over. The unions demand that the lease of all private operators must be cancelled and the blocks handed over to public sector companies. Several blocks given to private operators fall within the command areas of public sector coal companies. So the private companies utilise all the infrastructure facilities created by public sector companies, thus adding to their profitability. The unions therefore demand that all these blocks must go to public sector coal companies for increased coal production in the country.

Several land-losers had given their land for coal production but have not received fair compensation and jobs in a coal company. The trade unions therefore demand that they must get adequate compensation and rehabilitation packages including jobs to the satisfaction of the land-losers.

The government of India is levying income tax on the house rent allowance and other fringe benefits the coal workers are getting. Imposing such a tax has absolutely no justification and the unions demand its withdrawal forthwith.

Today the coal workers get a paltry pension which does not meet their requirements. Hence the unions demand that the present rate of 25 per cent as pension must be raised to 40 per cent so that the workers get some relief in their post-retirement life.

The government of India has not given the coal industry the status of an infrastructure industry. This deprives it of several concessions the government offers to infrastructure industries. Today coal is a major source of energy supply in the country and the development of the coal industry would be much faster if it gets the infrastructure status.




Instead of fully developing the coal mines in India, the Coal India has now formed a joint venture company, called Coal Videsh, to produce coal in foreign countries, like Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya etc. There is no justification for this step since Coal India has offered the closed coal mines in India to foreign multination for commencement of production. 

Though the Indian coal industry has big potential to meet all the coal requirements of the country, it is unable to fully utilise this potential due to bad planning and policies. More employment can be generated in coal mines if the government adopt proper policies. Hence the trade unions have raised this demand about the Coal Videsh in the interest of the industry and the country.

The government of India has imposed a ban on recruitment in public sector undertakings. At present a large number of coal workers retire every year but their places are taken by contract workers; as a result of it, regular employment is declining every year. Due to the hazardous nature of work is coal mines, many workers become physically disabled and as per rules their dependent should be given a job. However, Coal India has unilaterally stopped implementing this measure which has deprived several workers of job opportunities. The trade unions have therefore demanded full implementation of the existing scheme so that job opportunities would be available to the younger workers.




Already there is acute discontent among the coal miners all over India due to the bonanza the management of coal industry has offered to the executives. The latter were given perquisites to the tune of 45 per cent of their basic wages. Despite the signing of a good settlement in coal industry, this issue has created strong resentment among the workers. Moreover, top executives were given up to 200 per cent of their wages as PRP (performance related payment). 

At present workers are not getting any such payment and thus these bonanzas will increase the disparity of earnings and benefits between the executives and workers. It is the so-called logic of market economy that dictates the union government when it sets to decide the emoluments of executives and workers.

All the five abovementioned federations have decided to launch a countrywide struggle to achieve these legitimate demands of the coal workers. All of them are determined not to allow the government of India to privatise the coal industry. Coal workers well know the harrowing conditions their predecessors had been facing in private coal mines in the past. So the workers are gearing up for a long drawn struggle to keep the coal industry in the public sector.

Several top bureaucrats in the coal industry have joined the private sector coal mines. During their tenure in the public sector coal industry, many of these bureaucrats had had underhand  dealings with unscrupulous contractors, helping the latter to mint money at the cost of the public sector coal industry.




These are the reasons the meeting decided to warn the government to stop disinvestment of Coal India by April 18. Otherwise, all federations will hold massive demonstrations at the headquarters of Coal India subsidiaries and serve strike notices on April 19. in case the government does not pay heed to the warning, all the coal mines in India will come to a grinding halt from May 5 to 7 because of a three-day strike all over India.

However, if the government of India even then does not pay attention to the demands formulated by the coal unions, the latter will perforce go on an indefinite coal industry strike all over India --- may be in the month of June. The remarkable unity achieved by the coal workers in India will carry the struggle forward till they force the government to give up its policy of privatisation and disinvestment. It is the government of India that alone will be responsible if a long drawn strike adversely affects the thermal power stations and inconveniences the people.