Three points of disagreement with employee unions led to government-owned Coal India
being unable to sign a wage agreement last week with its four central trade unions.
Management and unions are to now meet in Kolkata
on September 18-19 to take up the points of contention.
One of the three issues of disagreement is on benefits to workers’ dependents. Another is Coal India’s aim to keep its mines operating through the week. A third is on monetary benefits for contractual workers.
Union leaders blamed the Union coal ministry, for allegedly compelling Coal India
to include “unacceptable terms” in the talks.
After reaching an accord on the late night of August 25, the formal agreement was to be signed on August 31, the day Sutirtha Bhattacharya retired as chairman. On August 30, senior company officials met the coal ministry in Delhi for a review meeting.
Union leaders, who claim to have knowledge on the matter, say Union coal and power minister Piyush Goyal pushed at the meeting for additional clauses to the draft of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) to be signed. “At the last moment, Coal India
officials, after meeting the minister, proposed inclusion of additional clauses which are unacceptable to us,” D D Ramanandan, general secretary of the All India Coal Workers’ Federation, told Business Standard.
Ramendra Kumar, general secretary of the Indian Mine Workers’ Federation, says it is evident that Goyal must have asked Coal India
officials to pursue incorporation of the additional clauses.
On August 31 night, company officials proposed primarily three clauses which were opposed by the unions. One,, the company has proposed that no jobs to any dependent of a non-executive worker will be given in an accidental death or if the employee is found unfit to work.
Also, land losers who are affected by mining operations will not be offered direct employment.
Currently, beside monetary compensation in an accidental death, the company offers a job to one of the deceased’s dependents. And, provides employment to land losers.
Second, Coal India
has proposed to keep all its mines for all 24 hours in the entire week. The present mandatory off-day on Sunday will be done away with; those working on Sundays will be compensated with another day’s rest, later.
Ramanandan says this means 26 days of work in a 30-day period, with the compensatory rest day not be counted as a paid rest day. “In effect, those who will work on Sunday and will be compensated later will have to forgo a day’s wage,” he claimed.
Third, say the unions, while they are keen to discuss the wages, emoluments and benefits for contractual workers, the company does not. “In past wage negotiations and agreements, there has always been a discussion on contractual labourers. The management had agreed to form committee to look after their welfare. This time, the management doesn’t wish to discuss this and this is intolerable,” said Kumar.
Union leaders say these three major points of disagreement became major issues, only after the management met Goyal in Delhi. Previously, only “minor differences” remained.
Asked to comment, a senior Coal India
official said, “We are in an advanced phase of concluding the agreement. Negotiation takes time. But we (Coal India
and the unions) have been able to come to a conclusion on the major points, which is encouraging, and these issues can be thought over and sorted out.”
The trade unions, each affiliated to three Left parties and one to a Bharatiya Janata Party front, were negotiating for a 50 per cent wage hike; Coal India
was offering a maximum of 12 per cent. The Congress-led INTUC was kept out of the negotiation, by court order.
The consensus on August 25 after prolonged bargaining apparently was for a 20 per cent hike and additional benefits in post-retirement medical benefits and increased allocation towards the pension fund by Coal India.