Haldia softens, whets Citu appetite

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  • Published 8.04.08

April 7: Haldia Petrochemicals today hinted at partially accepting Citu’s demand to absorb 183 workers but the trade union formally placed another condition that will have wider ramifications if conceded.

The CPM’s labour arm today placed before the management a demand for making permanent 600 casual workers whose land had been acquired for Haldia Petrochemicals, Bengal’s showcase project.

Political as well as industry sources said the demand appeared to a be pressure tactic to compel the company to fully accept the earlier demand.

However, they added that if the labour union presses ahead with such a campaign, similar demands could be raised in other industrial projects and open a Pandora’s box.

The Haldia Petro management today conceded that some of the 183 workers “would have to be made permanent” even if it was not possible to absorb all of them after a meeting with union leaders.

“The HPL management assured us today that some of the 183 workers would be taken on the company roster,” said Ashok Patnaik, the vice-president of the employees’ union at HPL.

“If all 183 casual workers are not given permanent em- ployment at one go, they can at least be absorbed in phases. But we will have to resort to a strike in the future, if all of them are not provided permanent jobs in the company,” warned Patnaik.

Citu had earlier threatened to call a 24-hour strike in Haldia Petro on April 8 to press the demand for permanent employment for the 183 casual employees.

A 10-member Citu delegation, led by Patnaik and local CPM MLA Nityananda Bera, today held a meeting with company representatives.

Three HPL officials, including senior general manager Sanjoy Shankar Moitra and plant head Subir Ranjan Ghosh, attended.

“At the meeting, we also demanded that 600 workers whose land was acquired for the project be provided permanent jobs. If necessary, they can be provided training to make them competent,” Patnaik said.

The union had been speaking of the demand earlier but this is the first time it has formally raised it.

Contacted tonight, indus- tries minister Nirupam Sen said: “I’m not aware of day-to-day developments. They (such reports) do not come to me. If there is an issue between the trade union and the management, it has to be sorted out at that level.”

Sen said the government would intervene only when there is a deadlock. “But that situation has not come yet,” he added.

On the demand that jobs be provided to families of those who gave their land for the project 12 years ago, Sen said: “I have not heard anything like that. I would not like to make any comment now.”

On the fresh demand, state Citu president and former minister Shyamal Chakraborty said: “We are not aware of Citu’s demand in HPL at the local level. We shall intervene only when the matter is referred to us.”

Patnaik said that at today’s meeting he had asked the management to give its opinion in writing on providing permanent employment to the 183 casual employees.

The Haldia Petro management has sought a session with Lakshman Seth, CPM MP and president of the employees’ union, on Friday.

On the impasse at Haldia Petro, Biswadip Gupta, the managing director of JSW Bengal Steel, said: “I do not think trade union activism is back. It’s an isolated case. However, one cannot make an issue of contractual job or outsourcing. It’s an established practise. Every company does it. The industry has to ensure contract labour is not exploited.”

Asked about the demand for jobs for those whose land was acquired 12 years ago, Gupta said: “If such a promise was made, it should be kept. If not, the question of doing so does not arise. The issue is to see if those who gave land are gainfully employed. It does not matter if the job is permanent, contractual or casual.”