West Bengal: Tool-Down strike at Haldia Dock Complex

August 16, 2011

1. Tool-Down strike at Haldia Dock Complex

Workers at Haldia Dock Complex of Kolkata Port Trust staged a successful tool-down strike on August 3, 2011 from 2 pm – 6 pm. This action by more than 2,000 workers brought the port operations to a stand-still. The workers organised under the banner of Haldia Dock Complex Contrators’ Sramik Union are protesting against the illegal termination of 60 workers of the Haldia Dock Complex (P & E Division) who were working last five years at Berth No 10 Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes (RTYGC).

The 60 workers have been working for the last 5 years. These jobs are of regular and permanent nature of work . They are recruited by port and put under the contractors. There has been changes of contractors, twice in the last 5 years but these workers have continued to be in work under successive contractors. They were employed in the container yard for loading and unloading of containers.

The contract of the previous contractor terminated on June 30, 2011 and on July 1, 2011 Land- Marine Equipment Services Private Limited from Mumbai assumed charge of the Operation & Maintenance of four Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes, at Container Parking Yard of Haldia Dock Complex. Immediately they terminated all 60 workers of the RTYGC. This is illegal under Contract Labour (Regulation & Abolition) Act, 1970 and Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 . The work is currently being managed by 15 workers brought from outside.

The 60 workers have started a sit-in-demonstration at the gate since their termination. The port authorities moved to the office of Regional Labour Commissioner (Central) to settle the matter. After a conciliation meeting on July 20, 2011 the Additional Labour Commissioner strongly expressed that these workers cannot be terminated and they must be reinstated within 7 days. The representative of the port authority in fact expressed his satisfaction at the performance of the 60 workers. The port authorities as the principal employer are still to implement the advices of the ALC.

A bilateral meeting took place on July 18, between the union and Land- Marine Equipment Services Private Limited in the presence of the local Member of Parliament where it was mutually decided that all workers would be taken back. However, the contor has violated the above decision. The principal employer, i.e. The port authorities have remained silent on the issue.

The workers of the Haldia Dock Complex are prepared to launch further struggles for their demands which might lead to an indefinite strike if their demands are not met within that time. There might be attacks on them from the contractor, the port authorities, the administration, police, local politicians and their goons. Already there have been instances of threats and intimidation against the workers during the tool-down strike.

We count on your support and solidarity to make this struggle successful.

Please send press statements in solidarity with the struggle. Letters to the Chairman of Kolkata Port Trust, M L Meena, Fax:(91-33) 2230-4901, e-mail: chairman@kopt.in, Dy. Chairman, HDC, Kolkata Port Trust Manish Jain Fax: (91-03224) 264877 & (91-033) 2230-5438 e-mail:dchdc@kopt.in & dchdc@haldiadock.gov.in

Additional letters and faxes to the Minister of Shipping, G K Vasan, Fax: +91 11 2335 6709, Mukul Roy, MoS, Fax: +91 11 2373 0084 and the Secretary, K Mohandas, Fax: +91 11 2371 6656

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2. Reinstate and regularise the 60 illegally terminated workers at the Haldia Dock Complex

8 August 2011, Delhi: The New Trade Union Initiative stands in solidarity with the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union in its fight against the contract labour system and the illegal termination on 1 July 2011 of 60 workers of the Haldia Dock Complex (HDC) employed at the Berth No. 10 Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes under the control of the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT).

We congratulate the 2,000 workers at the HDC led by the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union for the success of the 4 hour tool-down industrial action held on 3 August 2011 which brought the port operations to a stand-still as the loading and unloading of containers from eight ships were suspended. The 60 workers who were illegally terminated have been continuously employed in the container yard for loading and unloading of containers for the last 5 years, despite two changes of contractors. This clearly indicates the sham and bogus nature of the contract arrangement. The NTUI demands that the KoPT immediately reinstate the illegally terminated workers and regularise their employment.

The company contracted by the HDC to take over on 1 July 2011 the Operation & Maintenance of four Rubber Tyred Yard Gantry Cranes, at the Container Parking Yard of Haldia Dock Complex, Mumbai based Land-Marine Equipment Services Private Limited, has ignored both the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice to reinstate workers within 7 days, and the tripartite agreement reached on 18 July 2011 wherein they agreed to take back all the workers. The NTUI condemns the Land-Marine Equipment Services management’s blatant violation of the law of the land and visible lack of willingness to engage in negotiations in good faith for a resolution of the issue. The management of KoPT, as the principal employer has also failed in ensuring the implementation of the Additional Labour Commissioner’s advice.

This is not the first time that the contract workers of the HDC have had to fight for fair working conditions and security of tenure of employment. Over the years, HDC has gradually changed its workforce composition and created a small core of permanent employees and a growing body of workforce under temporary contract who are employed under precarious working conditions. This weakens the bargaining power of the workers.

The total workforce strength at HDC is 6700, of which 3200 are permanent workers and 3500 are contract workers. There are 600 contract workers in regular and stable jobs in different divisions who receive wages between Rs 165 to 270 per day, with limited benefits of ESI and PF, far below the earnings of permanent workers engaged in the same work. It is deplorable that these workers are kept outside the category of regular employment and exploited. The NTUI denounces the complicity of the principal employer KoPT in allowing for the contractualisation of the workforce and discrimination of contract workers in the facilities under its control. We condemn KoPT management’s use of this discriminatory practice as a tool to divide workers and marginalise contract workers and the unequal treatment given to contract workers. The NTUI upholds the right of equal pay for equal work and right to security of tenure as regular workers.

The struggle of the Haldia Dock Complex Contractors’ Shramik Union is a part of our common struggle and NTUI is committed to ensure the success of this struggle.

The NTUI demands that the Kolkata Port Trust and the Land-Marine Equipment Services management:

• Reinstate all the dismissed workers immediately
• Absorb contract workers employed in jobs that are perennial in nature into the KoPT workforce
• Stop engaging in unfair labour practice and stop violating labour laws

The NTUI calls upon the Regional Labour Commissioner and the Chief Minister of West Bengal to defend the rights of the most vulnerable workers, the contract workers, and ensure that both KoPT and the Land Marine Equipment Services management follow the due process of law.