Eastern Coalfields Limited: Report of the movement of the women of the workers families

by ECL (Asansol-Durgapur) Thika Shramik Adhikar Union

Report of the movement of the women of the workers families for re-incorporation of the working members into their contract jobs

The principle employer, management of Easter Coalfields Limited has ensured their responsibility to the retrenched contract workers for re-incorporation to their job after 20 days dharna and 9 day hunger strike by the female family members of these workers.

Some contract workers of the Behula Colliery siding in the Kenda area of the Eastern Coalfields limited (ECL) have been laid off illegally. The women and children of the families of these casual workers have started a sit in demonstration in front of the CMD office of ECL, under the banner of ECL Thika Shramik Adhikar Union from January 4, 2017. They are demanding immediate re-incorporation of the laid off workers. The wives, mothers and children of the workers are taking part in the demonstration.

22 workers of the Behula siding colliery, Kenda area, were laid off as they were organizing a strong movement for achieving their genuine demands. Even before 10 years, the casual workers of ECL did not have the basics like identity cards, minimum wages, form B-registrar, system for having bank payments, etc. The situation has improved due to the work of Adhikar, the union for casual workers, which have been organizing workers’ movements to address their basic demands. But the management of the Kenda area is continuing to take an extreme anti-worker stand. Here bank payments of the casual workers have not yet started, even until August 2015 the management was not ready to implement the rates prescribed by the high power committee for casual workers of the coal industry.

From January, 2013 a high power committee (HPC) fixed wages for casual workers working for all subsidiary coal companies of Coal India. The wage prescribed by the HPC for casual coal workers is almost double the minimum wage. ECL is a subsidiary coal company of Coal India. Due to the movements of the ECL Thika Shromik Adhikar Union the management was forced to implement the HPC prescribed minimum wage in several ECL collieries. But the management of the Kenda area was reluctant to start the new rates of the HPC. Adhikar union filed a case with the assistant labour commissioner (ALC) under the labour dispute act. After repeated discussions with the ALC it was decided that starting from September 2015 all casual work would take place following the prescribed rates of the HPC. Moreover, it was decided that starting from 01-01-2013 till the date when the new rates are implemented, arrears would be paid.

On September 1 twenty two casual workers in the Kenda area were laid off without citing any reason. Thus, till date not a single casual worker in the Kenda area is being paid with the HPC prescribed rates. In the collieries where the HPC rates have been implemented, a casual worker gets around Rs. 581 which includes bonus and underground allowance. In contrast, a casual worker in the Kenda area is being paid Rs. 250 to Rs 300 only.

The now laid off casual workers were leading a strong movement in various collieries of the Kenda area for implementation of the HPC prescribed wages. The women of the families of these workers were also participating in the movement to pressurize the management. In this situation, the management desperate to break the movement, laid off 22 casual workers illegally. This step of the management is not only anti worker but it is in-human. The workers who have been working for twenty years on a meagre wage have lost their work, right from the day from which they were eligible for a higher wage.

The workers along with their families planned a movement against this illegal decision of the management in October 2015. But they were resisted and threatened by a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader, and thus they backed out. Later, with the cooperation of TMC leadership they organized a movement to get back their jobs. After working for a month in the underground colliery of Kenda area, they demanded their wages according to the legal rates and they were immediately laid off after that. Then the ruling party took side of the contractors, the management also overlooked teh wrong doings of the contractors. A year passed, and the workers were without work. This leads to severe financial distress in the workers’ families.

Finally the women of the families decided to start a movement. Starting from January, 4, the women started a demonstration demanding the re-incorporation of the earning members of their families into their jobs.

On January 4, the women travelled fifty kilometers from their homes to Sanktoria where the office of the CMD ECL is located. The started a sit in demonstration there. It lasted for four days. The families of the other members of the union showed solidarity. Also many other organizations in the Asansol-Durgapur region participated in the movement and showed solidarity.

On the 4-th day of the movement the members of the ECL Thika Shromik Union asked the ECL management their opinion regarding the demands raised in the movement by the women of the workers’ families. At around 1:00 PM the personnel officer of ECL headquarters talked with us. He assured that this issue of re-incorporation of the laid-off workers would be discussed with the General Manager of Kenda area and we would be informed about the decision within January, 11. He also requested us to end the demonstration.

After this discussion the members of the union discussed the issue with the women leading the demonstration and it was decided that the demonstration would be postponed until January 11. If the Regional Labor Officer fails to decide anything regarding the laid off workers within January 11 then starting from January 12 the women will again start their demonstration in the same place. This decision has already been conveyed in writing to the ECL management, the administration and the regional labor commission.

But no decision has been come out from the conciliation on 11th Jan, 2017. So the family members of retrenched workers have again started dharna from 12th Jan, 2017 in front of the CMD office. Management of ECL also has given a letter on 10th Jan, 2017 mentioning that ‘since the matter is under conciliation the let the law takes its own course’.

On 12th Jan, 2017 a discussion has been initiated by the IC of Sanctoria IC, Kulti Police station with the management of ECL(HQ) at the time of demonstration by the other worker members of our union and their family members. At that meeting the management has stated that these matters will be finalized at conciliation and they do not take any decision regarding our demands. And they have also said that it is the matter of GM Kenda Area and they are unable to do anything at HQ level.

Indefinite dharna of the female is going on and the retrenched contract workers have started indefinite hunger strike at dharna manch from 16th January, 2017. Two retrenched workers have sited for hunger strike from 16/01/2017 to 19/01/2017. Management has not made any response regarding these issues. Then the female family members have decided to sit for hunger strike till death. Seven female family members of the retrenched have started indefinite hunger strike in front of the Office of CMD, Sanctoria from 19/01/2017.

Management of ECL has given a letter on 21/01/2017 bypassing their responsibility of illegal retrenchment of the 22 contract workers. The management has said that this issue has already been raised by us before Regional Labour Commissioner©, Asansol and ECL management is bound by law to obey the direction of any statuary forum or court.

All of us are very much aware that the process of law is a lengthy and time taking process. The family of the retrenched workers will be totally ruined till the law process is ended. We also want to inform you that the family members gave a letter on 10th Nov, 2016 to the General Secretary of the union stating that the situation of their family is going towards starvation due to unemployment for more than one year and they decided to sit for dharna demanding justice to the CMD, Eastern Coalfields Limited.

Today is the 8th day of the indefinite hunger strike by the female family members and the health conditions of these women are gradually became worse and one of them has been hospitalized. At the 600 metter distance from dharna manch the management of ECL has organized a public program to celebrate Republic Day on26th January. The members of the union have organized a rally and protest meeting stating that the management of ECL have no rights to celebrate the Republic Day because they do not obey the labour law, mines Act, environment law of the India Government.

On the 9th day, 27th Jan, 2017 when we are demanding the intervention of Director Personnel (DP) or Chairman Cum Managing Director ( CMD ) of ECL at the main gate of ECL then a meeting has been organized with DP at 2 PM. We have a long discussion with the Director Personnel regarding the issue of reinstatement. First he has totally refuted the responsibility of reinstatement of any contract workers as principle employer. We have argued that these workers were retrenched for demanding the higher rate of High Power Committee which is prescribed by the coal India and for these reason the management of ECL is totally responsible for their retrenchment. So management should take the responsibly to reinstate these workers under any contractors of the Kenda Area of ECL.

At last DP has assured us that he will take necessary action to implement the wage rate of High Power Committee and after that these 22 workers will not face problems to get job under any contractors of Kenda Area, ECL. He also has said that he will ask General Manager, Kenda Area that these 22 retrenched workers should not deprived to get job after implementation of the wage rate of High Power Committee. The family members of the workers have ended their hunger strike after above discussion and all of us have taken decision to continue our struggle until the retrenched workers reinstate.

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