Workers of a currency printing press in West Bengal’s Salboni have got the management to roll back 12-hour shift recently introduced, saying it has taken a toll on their health. The earlier shift was of nine hours. The unit has 700 workers in the press and another 500 employees in management.
The workers’ union complained to the management in a meeting Wednesday, having earlier agreed to the 12-hour shift on a temporary basis in view of demonetisation. These shifts began on December 14, a worker at the 20-year-old press told The Indian Express. “Norms under various factory Acts have been bypassed to implement the 12-hour shift. We agreed nevertheless, simply because we understand that there is a shortage of currency in the country and that the general public is really suffering,” the worker said.
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“But it was never meant to be permanent,” the worker added. “It was agreed between the workers and the management that this was a temporary session of two weeks. The two weeks ended Wednesday and therefore there was a review on how to proceed.”
He alleged that the issue is being politicised and stressed that the rollback is nothing other than a preventive in view of workers’ health.
“There are no readily available medical facilities here. The closest medical facility is Mednipur Hospital. About two years ago, a worker had a cerebral stroke and died. We believe it was because of overwork. But we couldn’t do anything about it because the hospital was so far. We need to take preventive measures and the management has agreed.” he said.
The press has been printing notes of denominations Rs 2,000, Rs 500, Rs 100 and Rs 50. “In the beginning the stress was on Rs 2,000s but now the management is stressing the new Rs 500s,” said the working, adding that the printing of Rs 2000s had begun even before demonetisation.
The workers’ union, the Bhartiya Reserve Bank Note Mudran Private Limited Employees Association, is linked to the Trinamool Congress. Trinamool MP Sisir Adhikary is its president.
Asked if there was any politics behind the demand and subsequent suspension of overtime, Adhikary told The Indian Express: “If the recent development was indeed political, then why would we have agreed to the 12-hour shift in the first place? The workers had an agreement with the management of increasing the shifts by three hours considering there is a shortage of currency in the country. And they have been working very hard. But over the past few weeks, at least 13-14 workers have not been well. They have had chronic fever and fatigue. Which is what happens when you work round the clock. So we have spoken to the management to suspend the 12-hour shift for the time being, purely on humanitarian grounds. If required, and when possible, we will begin the 12-hour shifts again.”
The facility will now have three shifts, two longer ones — 6 am-2:45 pm and 2:45-11 pm — followed by a seven-hour night shift of 11 to 6.
The Salboni management could not be contacted for comment despite several attempts.