The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Buddha wants to cushion IT, but polls near

Calcutta, Dec. 23: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked trade unions to exercise rest- raint while fighting for the rights of workers in the information technology and service sectors, now experiencing a high in Bengal.

At a meeting with union representatives spanning over two hours, the chief minister said his government would support a 'reasonable and justified' movement for workers in new industries.

'My government will be with you if the movement is for reasonable and justified demands, but you must also learn to practice restraint,' a union representative quoted him as saying.

But with the Assembly elections close, Bhattacharjee strove to also sound like the quintessential Left leader. 'I am a communist. How can I talk against militant trade unionism' I've been misquoted by the media on this,' he told the union members in the Rotunda at Writers' Buildings.

The CPM labour arm Citu, the Congress's Intuc and the Sangh affiliate, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sabha, were among those who sent leaders for the chat with the chief minister on strikes in IT and allied sectors.

Several union leaders raised questions about contractual labour, low wages, long working hours and 'exploitation' prevailing in the sunrise industries.

'Not all employees in these industries are employed on contract. The government cannot pressure these companies as they are new in the state. If we interfere too much, things will take a different turn,' Bhattacharjee told them.

'But, if you launch a movement against the 'exploitation', please do it in a united way and in such a way that is reasonable and justified,' he pleaded, not forgetting to add that his government was not pushing for a ban on bandhs.

Bhattacharjee set the tone for the meeting, speaking at length first and then answering questions for over an hour.

When some union leaders referred to 'inhuman' working hours in the IT industry, the chief minister was quick to point out that not all offices worked night shifts, only call centres did.

'There are no complaints from (those employed with) big players like Wipro, Infosys and Cognizant,' he told them.

Intuc's Pramathes Sen said after the meeting that the chief minister has not clarified his views about trade union rights in the IT sector. 'When it was pointed out that in some companies employees have to work for more than 12 hours, he said it may happen in small companies,' Sen said.

Aituc's Ranjit Guha was upbeat as the chief minister had not opposed militant trade unionism. 'Actually, he is not in favour of anarchism in industry.'

At the meeting, also attended by labour minister Mohammad Amin, the unions complained that the labour department was losing its relevance as companies didn't adhere to laws and did not turn up when summoned.

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