(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 23, 2012
CONTRACT WORKERS IN POWER UTILITIES
National Convention Decides Protracted Struggle
Swadesh Dev Roye
THE Mavlankar Hall of Delhi witnessed a significant gathering of contract workers in power utilities on August 31 --- in a national convention against the system of exploitation of contract workers, casual workers and daily wage workers in electricity utilities. A notable feature of the convention was that it was held as a culmination of the year-long campaign and propaganda through the country, including several regional conventions, organised by the Electricity Employees’ Federation of India (EEFI), an apex organisation of regular workers.
With the participation of around 900 delegates, which was much above the capacity of the hall, more than a hundred delegates had had to stand outside the hall. Though overwhelming participation was of the contract workers, central and state leaders of the EEFI were present in full strength. As many as 30 unions functioning in the electricity utilities in 15 states, besides those in the central electricity utilities like the NTPC, NHPC, Powergrid and DVC, and also those in some private power utilities, participated in the convention.
Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, inaugurated the convention, while Swadesh Dev Roye, working president of the EEFI, presided over. Other notable speakers included the CITU president A K Padmanabhan, Pavan Kumar (central organising secretary of the BMS), Kuldeep Kumar (general secretary of the Indian National Electricity Employees’ Federation, an INTUC affiliate) and Debanjan Chakraborti (general secretary, Construction Workers’ Federation of India, a CITU affiliate), besides the office bearers of the EEFI.
While introducing the draft of the Declaration, EEFI general secretary Prasanta Nandi Chowdhury spoke in detail on various angles of exploitation of contract workers in the industry and the perception of his federation in the matter. He shared with the delegates how the EEFI Working Committee has repeatedly deliberated upon the issue and arrived at a firm resolve to organise the contract workers and launch long-drawn struggles. As many as 28 delegates took part in the discussion before the convention adopted the declaration.
The declaration brought forth some prime points of concern at the convention. For instance, it noted the ever-increasing incidence of engaging contract labour even in core sectors, in operationally sensitive and technically sophisticated jobs, in continuously running processes and in manufacturing industries. This, the declaration said, poses a serious challenge to the trade union movement. It said it is all the more shocking that contract workers are employed today even in most sophisticated, hazardous and sensitive skilled jobs.
According to the declaration, contractisation, franchising and outsourcing of jobs have emerged as a dangerous tool to extract more and more surplus value from workers. They are a mechanism to earn unlimited profit by the employers class through intensified economic and social exploitation of contract workers.
Also, the convention strongly denounced the growing violation of labour laws and regulations that are related to the wages and other rights of contract workers, to the safety and social security measures in the electricity industry, etc. The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 and the rules frame thereunder by appropriate governments are a most grievously violated legislation in the country. Shockingly, however, governments at the centre and in states are themselves big violators of the statutes. The convention decried the anti-worker and anti-people clauses provided in the Electricity Act 2003 to enable the profit greedy, private power merchants to make electricity a market driven commodity. This, the declaration said, would jeopardise “its traditional characteristics” as a “service for socio-economic development of the nation.”
The convention adopted a charter of demands that would form the basis for a industry-wide powerful and long-drawn struggle of the contract workers, with the regular workers’ movement guiding and assisting them. The struggle would be conducted in phases in order to compel the governments and the electricity utilities to accept and implement the demands of contract workers in all the electricity utilities in the country. The main following are as follows:
(a) Stop to franchising, outsourcing and contractisation and to daily-wage or casual employment in electricity industry.
(b) Abolition of employment of contract labour in jobs of a permanent and perennial nature. Absorption of the existing contract workers as regular workers under the principal employer.
(c) Guarantee of trade union rights for the contract workers, including the right to recognition as per the practice of the respective power utilities, along with the right to collective bargaining.
(d) Implementation of Section 25 (v)(a) of the Central Rules 1971 under the Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act 1970, providing the same wage rates, holidays, hours of work and other conditions of service to contract workers for performing the same and similar kind of work, as are given to the workmen directly employed by the principal employer.
(e) Continuation of contract workers engaged by the previous contractor in the job without any interruption and change in service conditions on a mere change of contractor. Incorporation of this provision as a condition in the tender to be invited for appointment of contractors.
(1) The convention resolved to organise a day-long dharna in support of its demands. Unions will ensure the participation of contract and regular workers of electricity industry at the district, circle and project level establishments of electricity utilities all over the country during the months of October-November 2012.
(2) There will be yet another day-long dharna at all the state capitals on November 21, 2012.
(3) Further, the convention also resolved to contact the trade unions of all affiliations in the industry and make all-out efforts to jointly organise a massive March to Parliament at an agreed date.
The convention resolved to forge coordination and cooperation among the trade unions of all affiliation in the electricity industry in order to develop and carry forward united struggle of electricity workers --- both regular and contract workers --- to compel the governments and the management of electricity utilities to abolish the ongoing inhuman exploitation of contract workers.
The convention appealed to the regular workers and their trade unions in the industry to come forward with utmost commitment in organising the contract workers and extending total solidarity with their struggles for fighting against the onslaught of employers class and achieving the demands noted above.
AS it was, the convention generated great enthusiasm among the regular and contract workers and the trade union leaders of the industry at all levels. Leaders of both the BMS and the INTUC openly expressed their appreciation for the convention. It was certainly meticulous preparation which contributed in a big way in achieving the success. The motion generated in the minds of the workers of the industry must be further pushed and speeded up to take the struggle to higher pitches.