The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Austere Asim preaches puja generosity

Calcutta, Sept. 12: At times of economic downturn, the government is free to adopt austerity measures, but the private sector cannot cut its suit according to the cloth.

State finance minister Asim Dasgupta announced today that government employees earning up to Rs 8,300, including basic plus dearness allowance, every month will get Rs 1,000 as bonus. A festival advance of Rs 1,000 would be paid to those earning between Rs 8,301 and Rs 12,000 per month. Pensioners will get an ex-gratia of Rs 400. The bonus and the festival advance, which will cost Rs 70 crore to the exchequer, will be disbursed by October 1, said Dasgupta.

The cash-strapped state had slashed puja bonus from Rs 2,000 to Rs 1,000 last year. But Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government has made it clear to the industries — both public and private sector units — that they cannot do the same. The labour department has already issued a circular on bonus payable to the employees.

“It’s difficult to understand the government’s stand. It seems economic downturn affects only the government,” said S.K. Pal of Williamson Magor. Pal, a member of the state labour advisory board, added that despite requests from the industry at the board’s meeting on September 4, the government did not pay heed to its demand.

Representatives from all the leading chambers of commerce and trade unions attended the meeting chaired by labour minister Mohammad Amin.

Industry representatives wanted to pay bonus according to the Bonus Act of 1965 that links the bonus amount with the company’s profitability. To ensure a fair deal, the act also specifies a range, between 8.33 per cent and 20 per cent of wages earned, for bonus in the organised sector.

But trade union leaders like Chittabrata Majumdar of Citu and Lal Bahadur Singh of Intuc joined hands to oppose the industry’s plea. And finally the minister, in his verdict, ruled that companies couldn’t pay less than what they had paid in 2002.

“The labour advisory board is supposed to meet at least four to five times a year to discuss industrial relations in the state. But it seems the board is only there to discuss the issue of bonus and meets only once a year, a month before the pujas. Then they issue a circular with regard to bonus, which makes negotiations with workers difficult,” said Pal.

“Last year, only the Bengal and Kerala governments paid bonus. This year, as far as I know, the Kerala government is yet to announce bonus for its employees. We are still in the midst of a crisis,” said Dasgupta.

Though a section of the government employees, expecting a rollback to the earlier amount of Rs 2,000, were upset after the announcement at Writers’, the CPM-controlled government employees’ body, Coordination Committee, expressed satisfaction over the decision.

“The industry is also going through a bad phase and everyone knows that. Then why can’t the industry adjust the amount according to profitability'” asked the head of a leading city-based chamber of commerce.

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