The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unions taste defiance

Calcutta, March 24: Several employees of the state-run Great Eastern Hotel have summoned courage to inform the government that union bosses are preventing them from accepting the early retirement scheme.

Responding to the cry for help ' rarely have employees dared to blow the whistle on the trade union establishment in Bengal ' the government said tonight that it would consider extending the deadline for accepting the scheme.

According to the original schedule, the employees have to decide by Saturday whether to accept the package that has been formulated as part of the planned privatisation of the bleeding hotel.

'They (the employees) have written in to say that they are willing to accept the scheme but cannot because of their union leaders. They said they would take the forms and fill the same for severance pay under the scheme if arrangements are made to distribute the forms from an outlet outside the hotel,' a senior government official said.

Sensing the change in the 400-odd employees' attitude, officials working on the privatisation programme said there is no 'bar on extending the deadline. We will sit with an open mind on Monday and review the situation'.

Asked if the government would extend the deadline if there are no applicants by March 26, Sunil Mitra, the secretary to the public enterprises department, said the decision would be taken by the tourism department.

Aitiar Rahman, the secretary of the Intuc-affiliated Great Eastern Hotel Staff and Workers' Association, maintained that the employees would intensify their agitation if the government makes any move to close the hotel.

According to sources, employees hailing from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are showing signs of breaking away from the rest of the unionised colleagues.

Rahman, who is working in the hotel's cash department for the last 32 years, said members of all three employees' unions of the hotel, including the one affiliated to Citu, met this afternoon.

'The trade unions have decided to launch a joint movement to pressure the government so that the scheme is withdrawn,' he said.

Prabhat Samir Roy, the secretary of Citu-affiliated Great Eastern Hotel Employees' and Workers' Union, echoed Rahman. 'The employees of the hotel will not accept the early retirement scheme,' Roy said.

Government officials said the hotel workers stand to lose unless they opt for the scheme. 'If the employees apply for the ERS, they will get three times what they will get if the hotel shuts down by itself,' an official said.

A section of the employees expressed helplessness. 'I can't do anything even if I want to accept the scheme because we've been told by the union leaders not to take it,' an executive said. 'The hotel member secretary has also stated that the scheme is not for one or two people. Everybody has to accept it.'

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