ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Paving the Way for Privatisation?

The Coal India workers' demands merit more than bland assurances.

The five-day strike of Coal India Ltd (CIL) workers called by five major central trade unions was called off at the end of the second day with that most Indian of solutions – the setting up of a joint committee. This committee of government officials and representatives of the unions will “look into” the charter of demands. Regarding the main demand of the unions – removal of the clause in the coal ordinance which allows private commercial mining – the government has agreed to “evaluate” it. It also assured the workers that it had no plans to denationalise CIL which has approximately 3,52,282 employees. Significantly, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labour wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has been in the forefront of the strike and has also opposed legislation to denationalise coal blocks, pointing out that “canards” are being spread about the inefficiency of the public sector coal workers in order to hand over CIL to private interests. The other four unions are the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the All India Trade Union Congress affiliated to the Communist Party of India, the Hind Mazdoor Sabha and the Indian National Trade Union Congress of the Congress Party.

Among their demands were deleting the clause allowing private commercial coal mining in the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014, allocating coal blocks to CIL, bringing production planning and its execution under the scrutiny of the industrial relations system, ending contractual jobs in posts of a perennial nature and regularisation of all those who are presently on contracts, lifting the ban on recruitment and ironing out the problems in the Special Female Voluntary Retirement Scheme which the unions had earlier succeeded in reinstating. The All India Coal Workers Federation (affiliated to the CITU) pointed out that taken together the provision for private commercial mining, the indiscriminate allotment of coal blocks beyond areas identified by the Supreme Court, permitting contractors to prospect and the silence on workers’ social security in the new system all indicate that the government is “importing slavery”. It has also protested the coal ministry’s plans for replacing the institutional regulating system by a private individual, including the posting of corporate/multinational nominee at the helm of CIL.

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