July 28: Trinamul-backed labourers on contract at the Haldia Dock Complex today stalled work for eight hours demanding higher wages and other facilities.
Around 1,500 labourers of the Trinamul-affiliated Nationalist HDC (CPT) Contract Labour Mazdoor Union started the agitation around 7am and withdrew it at 3pm after the port authorities assured them that their grievances would be looked into.
Unloading of iron rakes at the port remained stalled because of the agitation.
The employees today protested the reduction in the number of working days at the unloading site from 30 to seven or eight a month.
“Instead of earning around Rs 7,000 a month, we now get Rs 1,600 or less. The raily wage has therefore got to be increased from the current Rs 215,” said Dipak Ray, one of the labourers.
Besides, said Ray, other facilities like clothes, raincoats, soap, which used to be given to such labourers, have been discontinued.
The union’s leadership claimed that the agitation was “spontaneous” and there was no formal instruction to cease work.
“The labourers have been agitated for a while and today we saw a spontaneous reaction. In fact, when we were informed, we requested them to rejoin work,” said union secretary Utpal Bera.
Officials from the contractor, AM Enterprise, which has been employing the 1,500-odd labourers for over 10 years at the dock complex for the unloading of iron ore said the problem is on account of reduced exports of iron ore following higher taxes imposed by the Centre.
“For nearly a year, export of iron ore to China has all but stopped. The iron ore we unload at the complex now is sent to the Jindals for their steel plant at Mumbai…. If we don’t get work, how can we give the labourers work?” asked an official.
The challenge of the reduced iron ore exports, according to industry sources, could have been mitigated successfully had there been sufficient alternatives in terms of cargo handling at the dock complex.
“The port is increasingly becoming unfeasible for high rates of handling, reducing navigability and frequent labour unrest, which is a direct consequence,” said a source this evening.
“Such incidents, unless the tide somehow turns, will become a regular feature at the complex in the near future,” he added.