Jan. 11: The legacy of CPM trade unionism at Calcutta airport has been allegedly strengthened by its Trinamul successor, spawning an army of shirkers paid to do nothing.
Several airport officials and contractors told Metro that they don't dare question why a worker assigned to a particular section is perpetually on paid leave, let alone ask why he isn't working even when he is on duty.
A direct consequence of this union-dictated work culture, or the lack of it, is passenger inconvenience. The integrated terminal, which opened almost four years ago, remains a struggling transition from the infamous era of dirty washrooms, overflowing waste bins, trolleys that are either broken or missing and touts in the garb of workers.
Metro highlights how strong-arm trade union tactics threaten to hurl the airport back to the dark days.
Hire or fire, union rules: A few weeks ago, the airport authorities wanted a housekeeping employee to be shifted from a washroom in a less busy section of the terminal to one in the departure level that needed more frequent cleaning. The reason? They were not happy with his performance and had pointed this out to the private contractor who had hired him.
"A union leader called almost immediately and said he couldn't be transferred," an airport official recounted.
The worker continues to be in the section where he doesn't need to toil.
Several private agencies who handle contracts for various services in the new terminal allege that nothing - hiring, firing or even transfer of workers - happens without the Trinamul-backed union's nod.
Cleaning, trolley retrieval, baggage handling and other passenger amenities are all managed by these private contractors, but their workers are allegedly chosen by the union leaders.
"If a superviser is inefficient and we want to transfer him to another project in another part of the city, we are not allowed to do so. The union asks us to manage with what we have. At the end of the day, we take the blame for any dip in the quality of service," a contractor said.
Won't work, won't wear uniform: The airport has 80-odd trolley retrievers, 2,000 baggage handlers and around 200 cleaners. Most of them are habitual shirkers, officials alleged.
Last year, a team formed to carry out surprise inspections found several baggage handlers allegedly asleep during duty hours in secluded portions of the terminal. Some were caught busy having meals and relaxing when they were supposed to be sorting luggage and putting them on flights waiting to take off. Fines were slapped on the errant workers but the vigilance exercise came to an abrupt halt because of "union pressure".
Trolley retrievers are supposed to be in uniform, which they allegedly refuse to wear. "We did try to get them to wear the uniform, but the union stepped in," the official said.
Penalise and be prepared for a strike: A contractor said that on an average, 100 workers don't report for work each day. "We pay fines up to Rs 40,000 a month for this, but our workers can't be penalised because they would go on strike."
The contractor had started a paid porter service last year but had to discontinue it within a few months because of "union problems".
Protection from party leaders: The Trinamul-backed contract workers' unions apparently owe allegiance to two factions, one led by Trinamul MP Saugata Roy, who is also the chairperson of the Airport Advisory Committee, and the other by Dola Sen, Rajya Sabha member and state president of the Indian National Trinamul Trade Union Congress.
"There is no union problem at the airport now. No one has told me about this," Roy said.
Metro called Sen twice today evening but she did not take the calls.