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Unions to fight strike order

Bokaro/Dhanbad, Oct. 31: The spectre of industrial unrest looms over Bokaro Steel Plant with trade unions deciding to contest the interim order by Jharkhand High Court that restrained the unions from going ahead with a one-day strike.

Describing the order as “unprecedented and unjust”, as many as seven trade unions have called for a strike on November 11 and declared their resolve to challenge the interim order when hearing resumes in the high court on November 5. A legal battle is apparently on the cards with the Bokaro Steel Limited (BSL) management, backed by SAIL, resolving to resist the pressure.

The stay order has caused a stir in trade union circles as this is the first time any high court has sought to extend the Supreme Court order banning strikes by government employees to public sector undertakings. Pointing out that the apex court order made no mention of industrial workers, veteran trade union leader A.K. Roy described the stay order as “unfortunate and prompted by misinformation fed by the BSL management”.

BSL, he pointed out, had pleaded before the court that a one-day strike by workers would cause carbon monoxide to leak from the plants and provoke “a major catastrophe even more enormous than the Bhopal gas tragedy”.

This was not just a gross exaggeration, said Roy, but also amounted to misleading the court. There was a one-day strike in December last year and a prolonged 39-day strike at BSL’s blast furnace in 1985, he recalled, but Bhopal gas tragedy did not recur. Why should it then occur now'

The one-day token strike, trade unions insist, became necessary because of the BSL management’s refusal to honour the agreement reached with workers after the December strike last year.

The BSL management, they declared, had withdrawn several facilities and perks, including bonus, in 2000 when the plant went into the red. But now that the plant has been declaring profits every year, the perks should be restored, they argued. In any case, but for two bad years BSL has always posted a profit.

Industrial strikes, unions point out, are not prohibited provided the strike notice is given 14 days in advance and conciliation fails. The notice for the October 25 strike was handed over to the BSL management on October 10. Even before that, meetings were held and the demands reiterated. Workers also resorted to a three-day fast while a delegation of trade union leaders travelled to New Delhi and called on the SAIL chairman.

The last straw, they said, was the refusal of the BSL management to participate in the conciliation meetings called by the labour department. Such tripartite discussions are mandatory under the law, unions pointed out, and BSL’s refusal to attend turned out to be the “gravest provocation” for the strike.

The BSL management took the “unique” stand that it would talk to unions separately but not with all the unions, which had served the strike notice on the same set of demands, together. The stand was found to be untenable by the labour department and the management was once again invited for conciliation. But once again, BSL failed to turn up. The management had earlier provoked the workers by deducting their wages for the one-day strike in December and deducting “a week’s incentives’ despite the draconian measures having been referred for arbitration.

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