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Port floats Haldia trade-off formula

A ship docked at Haldia port in September

Calcutta, Oct. 8: Calcutta Port Trust has offered an additional berth in Haldia to Haldia Bulk Terminal Ltd if the private player agrees to reinstate the 275 employees it sacked last month.

The port trust was willing to allow HBT to shift two harbour cranes to berth no 4B from its existing operations at berths 2 and 8, it has emerged from tripartite meetings over the weekend among officials of the port trust, HBT and manual handling agents such as Ripley.

HBT has suspended operations at berths 2 and 8 after the sacked employees allegedly roughed up existing workers and the firm claimed the port trust failed to provide security.

HBT will only carry out the crane operations at 4B, leaving other on-shore jobs to manual contractors such as Ripley, according to the proposals put forward by the port trust.

Gurpreet Malhi, the CEO of HBT, said the company was studying the proposals discussed at the meetings.

“We are yet to decide whether to take some people back. The scope of work at 4B offered by the port (trust) requires only eight people. Either the port should increase the work or those who do the additional job should take these people,” Malhi said.

The port trust and HBT, which provides mechanised cargo handling through giant cranes, are locked in a dispute over allocation of consignments. HBT — a joint venture between ABG Shipyard of Mumbai and LDA of France — has alleged losses because of excess workers and dwindling cargo volumes. It had even threatened to stop work last month unless the port diverted more ships to its berths.

Ripley, on the other hand, had questioned the port trust’s initial move to divert cargo to HBT, claiming the move would force it to cut jobs.

More negotiations are likely before the current impasse at berths 2 and 8 ends. CPT has put the onus on HBT to take back the sacked employees as a pre-condition for smoothly running its operations in Haldia.

Trade and industry in the eastern region, which relies heavily on the port, hope the deadlock ends soon.