Union Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya on Saturday came down heavily on the state government for a high degree of labour unrest in the state’s industrial sector. “West Bengal has the highest number of lockouts in the country. The government should discuss with managements of companies and aim at speedy revival.” The minister also summoned state labour minister Malay Ghatak to Delhi for discussions.
In September, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee announced setting up of a new steering committee for promoting industrialisation. Much to the dismay of the chief minister, two days after the announcement, Titagarh Wagons, one of the oldest wagon manufacturing units in India, closed owing to labour unrest. The plant was reopened in October.
The state’s flagship project Haldia Petrochemicals (HPL) was shut down in July, thanks to working capital crunch. The ownership tussle between two principal promoters-- West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation (WBIDC) and The Chatterjee Group ( TCG) -- showed signs of ending after the share purchase agreement was signed between the two groups, transferring management control to Purnendu Chaterjee-led TCG.
However, the plant is yet to reopen, as lenders are reluctant to infuse fresh funds. “We have to do an audit of the plant before deciding anything. But I don’t see any solution in near future,” said a member of the lender consortium. The downstream plastic units are facing the heat due to this long closure as many of those used to source polymer from HPL.
The heavy industries sector in the state faced a tough time, with Hindustan Motors suspending its operation at its Uttarpara plant. After failed meetings among the management, government and labour unions, almost 33 managerial staff were laid off.
In the jute sector, which is the second highest employment generating industries in West Bengal, providing jobs to nearly 214,714 people, labour unrest led to multiple cases of lockout and work suspension in 2014. At present, labour disputes in nearly 10 out of 50 jute mills, is leading to periodic work suspension. Between November 2013 and April 2014, eight jute mills suspended their operations.
Poor demand of jute, following dilution of the Jute Packaging Materials Act, 1987, has been one of the key reasons for the disruption. On account of this, in 2014, nearly 100,000 workers suffered job losses in the jute sector.
In 2011, among all the states, West Bengal accounted for the highest number of disputes, 153 or 41.35 per cent, according to a report on Statistics on Industrial Disputes, Closure and Retrenchment and Lay Offs, 2011, published in 2014. Further, West Bengal accounted highest number of lockouts, 147 or 76.96 per cent of the total number of lockouts.