The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sign, on union's line

Calcutta, March 26: Swapan Ghosh, a manager at the state-run Great Eastern Hotel, picked up an early retirement scheme form about 10 days ago. He returned it the next day, without filling it up.

'As soon as I took the form, some Citu leaders came and told me there was no way I could accept the scheme,' said the manager of the hotel's outlet, Sip and Bite, who had hoped to use the money to start his own eatery.

The deadline for accepting the scheme formulated as part of the 165-year-old hotel's planned privatisation ended today, with not even one of its over 400 employees opting for it. But in view of complaints by the staff that they were being forcibly held back by union bosses, the government looks set to extend the date.

'We will review the situation on Monday and may extend the ERS deadline,' tourism secretary T.K. Burman said today.

Hotel sources said there are around 200 workers, who are over 50 years old and hail from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who wanted to take the ERS money and go back home.

'But the unions would not hear of it,' said a fearful Laxmi Narayan Singh, who hails from Gopalgunj in Bihar and works in the security department. 'After all, we have all been part of one union or the other. We lost nerve and decided not to go for it. We have been told we cannot even utter the word ERS.'

Gateman Ramafer Ram said the employees are not even being allowed to enquire about the scheme. 'I want to know how, when and how much compensation the government is offering us, but no one is explaining that to us,' said the member of the Intuc-affiliated union. 'If I ask, I will be disowned by my union.'

The fear of being ostracised prompted 58-year-old Ghosh to return the application form blank. 'The import of what they said was life would be miserable for me if I went ahead and took it. I felt insecure and ostracised and I promptly returned it the next day even though I would have benefited from it. After my experience here, I wanted to start my own eatery,' he said.

Ghosh had only another year-and-a-half to go before retirement. An employee in the food and beverages wing who had almost 30 said: 'I didn't want to languish with the hotel. I am only 31 and wanted to make it on my own after taking the ERS money. But as soon as the unions got to know my plans, the leaders started intimidating me. I felt threatened and decided not to opt for the scheme.' He did not want to be named.

The unions ' affiliated to Citu, Intuc and the Trinamul-backed Inttuc ' freely admit they are preventing members from signing up. 'About 30 of our members wanted to apply for the scheme, but there was no way we could allow them to go ahead,' said Prabhat Samir Roy, secretary of the Citu-affiliated union. 'We will not allow the workers to do anything that will affect our unity.'

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