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Lights to remain on as Coal India unions call off strike

Govt rules out denationalisation, sets up panel to look into demands.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | Ahmedabad/new Delhi, New Delhi |
January 8, 2015 1:12:58 am

Trade unions of Coal India (CIL) on Wednesday agreed to call off the five-day nationwide strike that entered its second day after a meeting with coal and power minister Piyush Goyal, which lasted over five hours.

Operations at CIL’s mines are expected to resume on Thursday.

“Consequent to the intervention by Mr Piyush Goyal, Union Minister for Coal, strike by Coal India workers called off,” said coal secretary Anil Swarup in a tweet.

“The strike has been called off after the coal minister agreed to look into the demands of the workers,” said AD Nagpal, general secretary Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), one of the unions at CIL.

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According to the agreement that was worked out, the coal minister is understood to have assured the trade unions that a committee led by a senior coal ministry official with representatives from the unions will look into all demands including that related to the coal ordinance.

“There is no intention for denationalisation of CIL. The present and future interest of CIL employees will not be affected in any manner. CIL will be protected and there need be no apprehension about its ownership,” Goyal was quoted by PTI as saying.

After negotiations with Swarup broke down on Tuesday, Goyal had called all five trade unions of CIL — BMS, INTUC, AITUC, CITU and HMS — for another round of discussions on the second day of the strike.

While AK Padmanabhan, president, CITU confirmed that an agreement had been reached, he also said that CITU was not happy with the outcome. “All the other four trade unions have accepted the minister’s assurance but CITU is not happy. However, we too have agreed to call off the strike to maintain the unity of workers,” said Padmanabhan.

While the strike lasted only two days, over 75 per cent of CIL’s daily coal production was affected on the first day of the strike, with almost 300 out of 438 CIL coal mines shut down causing loss of an estimated Rs 300 crore, a CIL official was quoted as PTI.

In the two days that the strike was in force, unions had alleged that CIL management had tried to keep up the coal production by bringing in temporary workers to operate the shut mines. Workers had also reportedly clashed with police in Jharkhand and West Bengal.

Industry experts were of the opinion that while a four or five day strike might not cause widespread distress in the power sector, any more loss of coal production would result in long unplanned outages in states already suffering from huge peak power deficits, such as Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar.

While the government had already begun supplying additional quantities of coal to starved power plants prior to the strike, a proper contingency plan was still to take shape with an official from the Central Electricity Authority saying that they were awaiting the outcome of the Wednesday meeting between the unions and the coal minister to concretise further course of action.

According to general secretary of INTUC Jharkhand unit Rakeshwar Pandey, however, the coal workers were compelled to go on strike due to “arrogant” behavior of the CIL management, after their pleas repeatedly fell on deaf ears.

“The unions and workers were compelled to take this step even though they are aware of the economical loss to the nation due to the strike. They knew they were not going to get any incentive by this action” he was quoted by PTI as saying.

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