Haldia, Oct. 31: Workers, both current and axed, of Haldia Bulk Terminals today demanded that they be given jobs by the company that would replace HBT if it leaves Haldia port, adding that the mechanised cargo handler would have to “take our responsibility” till such time.
The demand was made after HBT formally expressed its wish to leave Haldia with immediate effect and informed Calcutta High Court that it had asked Calcutta Port Trust (CPT) to cancel its agreement.
“We discussed among ourselves the possible consequences (if HBT leaves). Of course we want HBT to continue operations and the government to ensure this. But if the company leaves, we demand that all workers will have to be recruited by the firm that replaces it. HBT cannot abandon us. Until we get another job, HBT will have to take our responsibility,” said 32-year-old dumper helper Chandan Maity.
Chandan, a resident of Durgachak in Haldia town, said he and his family of five would be in dire straits if HBT pulled out of the port.
“I have been living in a rented house in Haldia for the past 10 years. I have to look after my elderly parents, wife and two daughters (aged three and six years). I have been working for HBT for over two years and earn Rs 10,000 a month. If I suddenly become jobless, I will be in deep trouble,” he said.
Chandan said HBT suspended operations over a month ago and the workers were yet to receive wages for October. “We don’t know if at all we will get this month’s wages. We also did not get the Puja bonus.”
Chandan and other HBT workers flocked to a ground in Sutahata, about 5km from the dock complex, after hearing about the company’s wish on TV. They walked in a procession that snaked through Haldia town demanding that HBT resume operations.
Loader operator Sheikh Kader Ali, 40, said he was worried about the future of his family of seven.
“I earn Rs 13,000 a month. I have three school-going children, my wife and elderly parents. Next year, my elder son will appear for the Madhyamik and daughter will take the higher secondary exams. I spend Rs 3,000 a month on my children’s education. What will happen to us if I lose the job? I don’t have farmland to fall back on,” Kader said.
Dumper helper Sheikh Siraj, 40, blamed the state government for the “deteriorating law and order” at the dock.
“It is because of this that HBT has decided to pull out. HBT will have to look after us till we find another job. We are ready to work in the company’s establishments outside Bengal,” said Siraj, one of the leaders of the movement by the 350 HBT workers in favour of resumption of work.
The 275 workers HBT sacked last month made similar demands. “Even if HBT leaves Haldia, we will continue our agitation demanding jobs for all the retrenched workers. The company that will replace HBT at berths 2 and 8 will have to accommodate us. Had HBT taken us back earlier, it would not have had to announce that it wanted to leave,” said Samiran Betal, a leader of the INTTUC-affiliated dock workers’ union.
HBT had cited a bloated workforce caused by political arm-twisting as one of the reasons for sacking the workers. Betal, a loader operator, led a procession in Haldia today demanding that the retrenched workers be reinstated.
A six-member police team from Haldia reached Visakhapatnam this afternoon to record the statements of the three HBT officials who were allegedly kidnapped on Saturday night, bundled into a train to Calcutta and told never to set foot in Haldia.