Over 550 employees in Hindustan Steelworks Construction Ltd, (HSCL), a public sector enterprise, are up in protest as the company allegedly plans to transfer its corporate office from Kolkata to New Delhi. In May 2016, the Centre approved a plan which made the hitherto standalone loss-making HSCL a subsidiary of NBCC (India) Ltd, a blue-chip Navaratna company under the union urban development ministry. Under the agreement, NBCC acquired 51 per cent of the paid-up capital of the company infusing Rs 35.7 crore while the Centre infused Rs 34 crore. HSCL, at that point of time, had accumulated losses of Rs 1,585 crore which made the company unable to recruit or replenish manpower. As a result, a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) costing the company Rs 532 crore was floated and the manpower reduced from 13,517 in 1999 to 2,770 in 2002. Presently, only 24 people are on the direct payroll of the company while 588 employees, ranging from senior managers to executives across technical and non-technical roles are contractually employed. Additionally, via other contractors, another 6,500 personnel are employed to look after the operations and maintenance of its clients from the steel sector. Over the years, HSCL, unable to recruit any fresh manpower, became total dependent on contractual workers not only to run its corporate office but service its clients across the steel and other sectors as well. The employees allege that during a secretarial meeting on November 20 in Udyog Bhawan in New Delhi, it was decided that the corporate office of HSCL will be shifted to Delhi while the registered office in Kolkata will continue to be in place. A copy of the minutes of this meeting is with Business Standard. As per Joydeep Lahiri, finance officer at HSCL, who is also the general secretary of the HSCL Contractual Employees Union (HCEU), it will result in a retrenchment of the 552 contractual workers and will lead to the company’s “unnatural death”. Employees further alleged that while a formal notice by either NBCC or HSCL is yet to be put up over the alleged shifting of the corporate office, discussions are on for transfer of the company’s assets. “We cannot allow the transfer of the corporate office from Kolkata to Delhi.
If HSCL was still under losses, it would have been understandable, but since 2012, we are making an operational profit”, a contractual employee told this newspaper adding that three workers in the corporate office who are in the company’s direct payroll, were asked to relocate in Delhi as per a signed transfer order. However, HCEU forced HSCL’s authorities to withdraw the transfer orders. HSCL’s negative net worth had turned into a positive Rs 64.48 crore and it posted a Rs 32 crore operational profit in the first two quarters of the ongoing fiscal year. During 2016-17, the same stood at Rs 73 crore. The company’s chairman and managing director, Moyukh Bhaduri and its chief finance officer, M. C. Bansal did not respond to repeated calls and SMS. Moreover, HSCL employees alleged that in case HSCL’s corporate office is transferred to Delhi, the company will be vulnerable to closure. As per minutes of the meeting document held on October 10 between NBCC and HSCL officials, HSCL has been prohibited from bidding in “any projects which is having value less than Rs 25 crore and at less than seven per cent PMC charges except for repeat orders/extension of works in existing projects”. Lahiri, along with other senior contractual staff opined that this move will cripple the earnings of HSCL. As on December 1, the company has an order book of Rs 6,500 crore from the steel and infrastructure sector. The executive employees have written Parliamentarians from West Bengal on Trinamool Congress ticket to stall the alleged transfer of the corporate office.