Calcutta, Sept. 24: Private port operator Haldia Bulk Terminals (HBT) today laid off 275 workers at Haldia, citing union-negotiated terms, inflexible “profile” of the surplus employees and “unrest created by certain factions”.
Late tonight, the chairman of the Calcutta Port Trust, which runs the Haldia port, issued an appeal to everyone, including public representatives, to help maintain law and order. The state home secretary has also been informed.
Haldia falls under the Tamluk Lok Sabha constituency, which is represented in the Lok Sabha by Trinamul’s Subhendu Adhikari.
The retrenchment by the company — a joint venture between ABG Shipyard of Mumbai and LDA of France — reflects the cost of hiring hands under local pressure and failure to ensure enough business to sustain the recruitment and remuneration.
The situation unfolding in Haldia is another pointer to the compulsions under which industries function in an area where the unchallenged writ of the Left has been replaced by multiple factions claiming allegiance to the Trinamul Congress.
“The union-negotiated employment terms and profile of these surplus employees do not offer any flexibility of roles, which is the norm for cargo-handling companies. In view of the continuing losses and unrest created by certain factions which is affecting operations, HBT had decided to right-size its workforce with the retrenchment of 275 personnel w.e.f 24th September 2012,” company CEO Gurpreet Malhi said in a statement.
The company added that it might consider outsourcing or hiring suitable additional workforce in the future if the volumes increase. “However, it will look at hiring employee profiles which are not restrictive to only a single function so that the workforce is agile to handle operations with optimal productivity. All dues and benefits for these employees have been cleared in full compliance with Indian laws and regulations,” the CEO’s statement said.
Sources said the retrenched workers earned between Rs 12,000 and Rs 14,000, besides other allowances and benefits.
HBT, which has been running two berths in Haldia with mobile harbour cranes since 2010, was burdened with a larger workforce than its mechanised operations required. Under political pressure, the company had to hire 650 employees on its payrolls along with 350 contractual workers, although the requirement was for only 350.
In 2010, the Left was still in power but its clout had waned and satraps claiming the backing of Trinamul had started calling the shots. Several industries have complained since then that they have to deal with multiple factions, unlike the Left’s “single-window” system.
HBT had earlier this month cited losses and threatened to close down operations unless the port diverted more ships to its berths. The company felt that ships were being sent to other berths with manual operations.
The Calcutta Port Trust and HBT then reached a middle ground under the supervision of Calcutta High Court, whereby the port agreed to increase cargo.
However, tension started building up again over the past week when the port started sending more ships to the automated berths. An influential politician and his lieutenant threatened the port with dire consequences if ships were diverted from the manual berths to those of HBT, sources said.
Calcutta Port Trust chairman Manish Jain expressed dissatisfaction at HBT retrenching the workers without consulting the port.
“After mutual discussions before the high court about the agreed parameters within the ambit of agreement, we made a request to HBT not to resort to any action that may lead to a law-and-order problem. But we are not aware of any such notice,” Jain said.
“We are requesting everybody, including public representatives, to help us maintain law and order. We appreciate the steps taken by them so far. But we feel a more pragmatic approach could be taken by all,” Jain said.
Sources said the port had called a meeting of all stakeholders on Thursday. The apex body of the Calcutta Port Trust has scheduled a meeting on Friday.
Utpal Bera, general secretary of a Haldia dock union affiliated to Trinamul’s Inttuc, said tonight: “We will not allow it (the retrenchment). We will launch an agitation.”