Pawan Ruia (right) with Dunlop director S.K. Paul (left) in Calcutta on Friday. Picture by Kishor Roy Chowdhury
Calcutta, Oct. 21: Dunlop owner Pawan Ruia today tried to turn the tables on the Mamata Banerjee government by proposing to reopen the troubled Sahagunj plant in phases, provided the state restores electricity and allows the company to set up a captive power plant, while the workers approve a recast plan.
Coming out of the longest ever board meeting of the company, spanning over two days, the Ruia Group chairman said this was his last shot at reviving the ailing plant even as he remained hopeful about the long-term viability of the unit.
I will consider Sahagunj a closed chapter if this restructuring fails. But I have no doubt that the plant will run profitably and flourish if the management is allowed to work freely on the recast plan, Ruia said.
To start with, the company said it would take back 50-60 people from the engineering department to manufacture industrial products such as conveyor belts and hoses. It will subsequently go into off-the-road tyre production and take back some more workers.
The management would reinstate all the 875 workers once the truck tyre business got going but the company must have a captive power plant by then. Dunlops proposal is pending clearance from the state pollution control board.
The proposal drew a blank from the unions who demanded that all employees must be taken back at one go.
The state government also sounded sceptical about the Dunlop plan, though it was yet to take a view on the matter.
State labour minister Purnendu Bose said he would discuss Dunlops decision with industry minister Partha Chatterjee, power minister Manish Gupta, and, if required, chief minister Mamata Banerjee, as it has become a public interest issue now. All the three are out of town.
Bose expressed happiness at the managements decision to give Rs 1,000 to every worker ex-gratia before Diwali. As the states labour minister, I am happy that the workers are getting their dues, but I am not sure about their future.
Bose said there were some positive clauses in the boards decision but declined to elaborate. He said Dunlop had expressed eagerness to resume negotiations on a new wage contract, and a tripartite meeting would be called soon. The earlier long-term wage settlement was valid till April.
Power minister Manish Gupta, however, was not happy with the turn of events, saying the management had included the power resumption condition without consulting the government.
Two years back, a system was formulated under which they could pay the pending power bills. After we came to power, the Dunlop management has never talked to us regarding this issue, and now suddenly we find that it is one of the primary conditions for resuming operations at the factory. We had no prior intimation on the matter, said Gupta.
Bitan Chowdhury, general secretary of Citu, the CPMs labour arm, made it clear that they would not accept the decision to withdraw the suspension order in a phased manner.
We are opposed to it. We shall go for an intensive agitation if nothing is solved in a tripartite meeting, supposed to be held either on Tuesday or Wednesday, he said.
Bidyut Raut, working president of the Trinamul Congress affiliated INTTUC, said, The question of taking back employees in a phased manner is unacceptable to us.
Ruia said that earlier, too, the company had lifted suspension of work in phases and this was the only option to revive the unit. I cant continue to pay wages for months without production. It is not viable. Production has to be profitable. The board has thought a lot about it and this is the best plan, Ruia said.
Dunlop has been paying wages for the last 10 months without production.