People's Democracy

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


No. 29

July 17, 2011

Coalminers Prepare for Three Day Strike


M K Pandhe


MEETING in New Delhi on July 4, all the five federations working in the coal industry decided to go in for a nationwide strike action on August 8 to 10, 2011, in protest against the inordinate delay in commencing wage negotiations for the ninth National Coal Wage Agreement (NCWA). The 8th NCWA was over on June 30, 2011, and the implementation of the new agreement should have commenced from July 1, 2011.


The strike notice to the chairman of the Coal India Limited (CIL) was jointly served by Indian National Mine Workers Federation (INTUC), All India Coal Workers Federation (CITU), Indian Mine Workers Federation (AITUC), Akhil Bharatiya Khadan Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and Akhil Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation (HMS).


The CIL management did not even convene a meeting of the Joint Bipartite Committee for Coal Industry to negotiate with the trade unions with a view to finding an amicable settlement of the charter of demands submitted by the coal industry unions.


The National Convention of Coal Unions, held at Ranchi on June 28, 2011, which was attended by more than 500 delegates from all the coal mines in the country, condemned the policy of the ministry of coal and the coal managements, and decided to observe a National Protest Day on July 18, 2011 by holding rallies and demonstrations all over the country.




The convention condemned the policy of disinvestment of 26 per cent shareholdings of the Coal India Ltd. Earlier, when the ministry of coal decided to disinvest 10 per cent of the Coal India’s shareholding, union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee gave a solemn assurance to all the unions in Coal India that there would be no further disinvestment so long as the UPA government was in power. The coal workers refused to take shares of the Coal India even though they were offered shares at concessional rates. All the unions denounced this violation of the assurance given by the union finance minister and decided to oppose the policy of disinvestment in the coal industry.


The Ranchi convention further condemned the allotment of 250 coal blocks to private sector and mafias in the coal industry that has a total coal reserve of 56 billion tonnes. These operators do not pay even the minimum wages to workers, nor are even the provident fund and ESI contributions paid though they are statutory provisions. Taking advantage of the shortage of coal in the country, these private operators and mafias are illegally selling coal in black market. Though the union coal ministry asked the representatives of private sector coal companies to nominate their representatives to the JBCCI, they refused to join the committee and implement the National Coal Wage Agreement. The union coal ministry has refused to take any action against the private sector coal companies and is conniving at their merciless exploitation of the coal workers.


There has been a drastic reduction of manpower in the public sector coal mines. During the last decade, regular manpower came down from six and a half lakhs to less than four lakhs. The ban on recruitment imposed by the union coal ministry led to stoppage of fresh recruitment after retirement of coal workers due to superannuation. Women workers were forced to retire under the female voluntary retirement scheme (FVRS) by asking them to nominate a male representative from among the family members to work in the coal mines. Unfortunately, except the CITU, all the unions in coal industry accepted the FVRS, as a result of which employment of women came down from about one lakh to only 20 thousands. Attempts are being made to further reduce the female employment despite the union law ministry declaring that the FVRS is constitutionally invalid.


There is acute resentment prevailing in coal industry due to non-implementation of some clauses of the previous wage agreements. The unilateral interpretations of some of the clauses of these agreements are only adding to the accumulated discontent among the workers.




Downsizing of the regular manpower is rampant in coal mines and the regular employees are being replaced by contract labour at extremely low wage rates and in poor working conditions. It is estimated that nearly 40 per cent of coal production is being undertaken through these contract labourers. In Mahanadi coal fields, two third of the manpower is contract labour; some of the mines are being operated only by engaging contract workers. The managements are illegally employing contract labour even in jobs of a permanent and perennial nature while the union coal ministry is behaving like a silent spectator. The union labour ministry is nonchalantly exempting some of the coal mines from the purview of Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act.  


Trade unions have demanded that the principle of equal wages for equal work should be implemented in coal industry in full and that the contract workers should be paid the same wages as regular employees in the industry. The government must also compel the private sector coal companies to pay the wages decided by the National Coal Wage Agreement so that the same wage rates are prevalent in the entire coal industry.


The neglect of underground coal production has resulted in closing down of several underground coal mines despite huge coal reserves existing in these mines. While indigenous coal mines are being closed down, the CIL management has formed a joint venture company, called Coal Videsh, to produce coal in Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa and other countries. The government is importing more than 30 million tonnes of coal, despite the possibilities of enhancing coal production in India existing today.


The government of India has permitted foreign coal companies like Rio Tinto to operate coal mines in India. As a result of the measures taken by the union coal ministry, the share of Coal India in coal production is declining in India.




Illegal coal mining is rampant in the mines that have been closed down by the Coal India and Singareni Collieries. This is being done in broad daylight, with the connivance of the public sector coal mine officials, police and local administration. Several accidents occur in these coal mines but the Director General of Mines Safety rarely takes action against the operators of these illegal coal mines.


The decision of the government of India not to give any job to the land-losers whose land has been taken over by coal companies has raised the question of what would happen to the peasants who have lost their only source of livelihood. The trade unions have demanded that all the persons who lose their source of livelihood due to land being taken over by coal companies should be given jobs and fully rehabilitated. Similarly, all the persons living on land owned by coal companies for generations should be fully rehabilitated by withdrawing the present policy of eviction of such occupants.


Thousands of tonnes of coal are getting burned in Jharia coal fields due to the fire in coal mines but the BCCL management has not taken any step to put an end to the fire. Similarly, livelihood of several workers is in danger due to subsidence in the Raniganj coal belt. Despite the Supreme Court directive, no measures have been taken by the Coal India to check the menace.


The dreaded disease of pneumoconiosis has affected a large number of coal miners but there is total failure on the part of coal managements to rehabilitate these affected workers. The workers are asked to take voluntary retirement and the managements disown the responsibility to ensure full rehabilitation of the victims of pneumoconiosis.


The safety in coal mines is sadly being neglected, with the coal managements openly violating the safety rules. Major mine disasters are taking place in coal mines off and on. The government of India has not ratified the ILO convention concerning safety in mines and failed to ensure the observation of safety rules in mines. Many new health hazards have been created due to introduction of news technology, but no steps are being taken to ensure the safety of workers.


The three day strike decision has highlighted the legitimate grievances of coal workers and united preparations for the strike are going on all over Coal India and the Singareni Collieries.


The remarkable unity achieved by the entire trade union movement in coal industry will make the strike complete. The threat of deduction of eight-day wages cannot deter the coal miners from going ahead with the united strike action all over India.