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Go-slow grounds airport cargo

An “indefinite” go-slow by Trinamul-backed cargo handlers to demand a pay hike and Puja bonus disrupted export out of Calcutta airport on Friday.

Emirates, Qatar and other international airlines failed to load tonnes of consignments because of the agitation by 140 workers of Bhadra International, a private agency the airport authorities had hired for cargo handling, since late on Thursday.

Officials fear the situation might worsen as Trinamul leaders have threatened a strike if the demands are not met. Agency representatives in Calcutta refused comment.

Till late on Friday, nearly 100 tonnes of cargo — comprising leather goods, garments, silk products, machinery and some perishable items like crabs, frozen fish and meat — were lying in the warehouses or in the open space outside the cargo terminal.

Handlers unload goods from trucks and other vehicles after they arrive at the airport and carry them to the warehouses. Once customs officials clear the items, the handlers load them onto aircraft.

Airport sources said the evening flight of Emirates carried only eight tonnes of cargo, against its capacity to carry 18 tonnes.

“The eight-tonne cargo comprised perishable items. Around 10 tonnes non-perishable items, such as machinery, leather goods and garments, that the flight was to carry are still lying in a warehouse. The consignment was meant for some European and American destinations,” said an airport official.

The Qatar Airways freighter that left early on Friday could not carry five tonnes of garments meant for Dhaka. Around eight tonnes of non-perishable items could not be loaded onto a Thai Airways flight.

An exporter said his consignment worth Rs 17 lakh, meant for Finland, had been stranded since Wednesday.

State education minister Bratya Basu, Trinamul MP Saugata Ray and other leaders joined a procession during the day to express solidarity with the protesters. “The march was organised to press for the demands and protest the FDI in retail and the fuel price hike,” Basu later said.

“The agency hasn’t fulfilled its promise of a salary hike. Also, they have not yet paid the Puja bonus. If the demands are not met, we’ll go on a strike,” said Pradip Sikdar, the general secretary of Trinamul-backed Airports Authority of India Staff Workers’ Union.