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A three-pointer disagreement, ranging from benefits to workers’ dependents, Coal India’s strive to keep the mines running throughout the week and negotiation over the monetary benefits for contractual workers resulted in the postponement of signing the 10th coal wage agreement between the four central trade unions and the company. Trade union leaders, in turn blamed the coal ministry of compelling Coal India to include “unacceptable terms to the unions” thereby foiling the wage negotiation agreement. After reaching an accord on August 25 late night, the formal agreement was supposed to be signed on August 31, the day, Sutirtha Bhattacharya retired as the company’s chairman. On August 30, senior company officials met the coal ministry in New Delhi for a review meeting. Trade union leaders, who claim to have knowledge of the meeting just a day before the agreement signing date, opine that it was in that meeting that union coal and power minister, Piyush Goyal, pushed for additional clauses to the draft of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) which was to be signed. “The company and the trade unions had reached an agreement and the accord was to be signed. But at the last moment, Coal India officials, after meeting the (coal) minister, proposed inclusion of additional clauses which are unacceptable to us”, D. D. Ramanandan, general secretary of All India Coal Workers’ Federation told Business Standard. Adding to Ramanandan’s claim, Ramendra Kumar, general secretary of Indian Mine Workers’ Federation claimed that it is evident that Goyal must have asked Coal India officials to pursue hard for the incorporation of the additional clauses. On August 31 night, company officials proposed primarily three clauses which were opposed by the unions. In the first place, the company has proposed that no jobs to any of the dependent of the non-executive workers will be given in case of accidental death or if the worker is found unfit to work. Besides, the land losers who are affected by mining operations will also not be offered direct employment by the company. Currently, besides monetary compensation in case of accidental death of the workers, the company offers jobs to one of the deceased’s dependents and provides employment to the land losers. Secondly, Coal India has proposed to keep all of its mines operational 24 hours for the entire week.
As per the company’s proposal, the mandatory off on Sunday will be done away with and workers, working on Sundays will be compensated with another day’s rest later.Ramanandan claimed that although it will imply 26 days of work in a 30-day period with payment for the entire month, the compensatory rest day will not be counted as a paid rest day for the workers. “In effect, the workers, who will work on Sunday and will be compensated later, will have to forego a day’s wage”, he claimed. In the third place, while the unions are keen to discuss the wages, emoluments and benefits of the contractual workers, the company doesn’t want to discuss the same. “In the past wage negotiation and agreements, there has always been a discussion on contractual labourers and the management had agreed to form committee to look after their welfare. However, this time, the management doesn’t wish to discuss their welfare. This is intolerable”, Kumar said. These three major points of disagreement, the trade unions claim, cropped up to become major issues, only after Coal India’s top management met Goyal in New Delhi. Previously, union leaders said that “minor differences” had remained despite conclusion over the hike and other benefits which can be sorted out amicably before August 31. Asked about the same, a senior Coal India official said, “We are in an advanced phase of concluding the agreement. Negotiation takes time. But we (Coal India and trade 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 led by three Left parties and the BJP were negotiating with the company over a 50 per cent wage hike with Coal India offering a maximum of 12 per cent. The Congress led INTUC, which has the largest membership base was kept out of the negotiation as per a court order. An consensus was reached between the unions and the company on August 25 late night after prolonged bargaining, where a 20 per cent hike and additional benefits related to post-retirement medical benefits and increased allocation towards the pension fund by Coal India was agreed upon. Coal India officials and the trade unions will meet again on September 18-19 in Kolkata to take up these points of contention. Pointers: