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Leave leash on union bosses

- Season’s greetings but pull your socks up

Calcutta, Dec. 24: The Mamata Banerjee government has decided to do away with the special leave granted to elected representatives of employees’ unions to attend triennial conferences.

The special leave had been introduced by the erstwhile Left regime, a pillar of which was a powerful confederation of employee unions.

The state government today rejected the applications of the Coordination Committee, the once-influential Left-leaning umbrella organisation, and the Congress-backed Confederation of State Government Employees’ Federation.

The two confederations had sought special leave for their elected representatives to take part in their conferences later this week. Such conferences are held once in three years.

Government officials said the practice had started in 1977 soon after the Left Front came to power in Bengal. Often, the elected representatives of the unions were given special leave of up to four days.

“But this year, the government has decided to scrap the benefit as it feels that holding such conferences on weekdays goes against the spirit of the new work culture the chief minister is keen on promoting in the state,” said an official.

The new government had taken the first step in February 2012 by refusing leave on a bandh day. The initiative yielded results as, since then, bandhs ceased to have any impact on attendance at government offices.

“This is the next stepů. The employees can have their conferences but why on weekdays?” asked an officer.

Veterans said the conference leave used to be granted by the finance department through a special order under a category called “special casual leave”. Employees up the ladder from blocks to the state level go on leave during the conferences.

“I can recall how we struggled to manage hospitals in 2010-11 when a number of unions had their conferences. Each union has 1,500 to 1,600 elected delegates. For four days, there was a severe shortage of manpower in medical colleges,” said a health department official.

The unions used to apply for leave on their letterheads for all the shortlisted employees. Once the leave was granted by the finance department, the employees would send the order to their departments.

Pranab Chatterjee, a senior leader of the CPM-backed Co-ordination Committee, said the organisation had sought two days’ special leave to hold the conference in Ashoknagar in North 24-Parganas between December 27 and 30.

“We needed two days’ leave — on December 27 and December 30 — as December 28 is a Saturday and December 29 is a Sunday. But we were informed today that we wouldn’t be granted the special leave,” Chatterjee said.

“Our representatives will attend the conference by taking (regular) leave, for which they are eligible,” Chatterjee said.

Sanket Chakraborty, the joint secretary of the Congress-backed union, said the Trinamul union was “granted four days’ special leave last year to hold its conference”.

No office-bearer of the Trinamul-led State Government Employees’ Federation (Unified) was willing to go on record but one said: “Next time, we will have to hold our conference by taking regular leave. I am not sure how many representatives will attend.”