The central trade union organisations in a meeting on Tuesday decided to resist the central government’s decision to shift the raw material department of Steel Authority Of India Limited (SAIL ) from the eastern metropolis of Kolkata.
It has also been decided that the central trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), will put all their weight to nullify the passed order and will build up a direct resistance movement.
In the meeting of the SAIL directorial board on June 10, a decision was taken to wind up the raw material department (RMD) of SAIL from Kolkata. Upon hearing the news, there was a spontaneous protest at the Kolkata headquarters against the order. On behalf of workers of the RMD branch of SAIL, a litigation has been filed with the Central Regional Labour Commissioner under the Industrial Dispute Act. The SAIL Officers’ Association has also condemned the move.
Demanding immediate scrapping of this order, a letter has been sent to the SAIL Managing Director by Tapan Sen, general secretary of CITU, Anadi Sahu, state Secretary of CITU, and Lalit Mishra, general secretary of Steel Workers Federation of India. In another development, the SAIL workers have also appealed to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee seeking her intervention in the matter. However, the chief minister's office has not given a concrete response in this regard.
Following the Centre’s move to shift the RMD unit of SAIL, the CITU West Bengal committee in a press release said that in the past too the Narendra Modi-led government had made such attempts to sell the PSU units operating in West Bengal on several occasions. The government’s attempts to sell Bridge and Roof Co., Alloy Steel Plant (ASP) in Durgapur, and Durgapur Steel Plant (DSP) units were foiled under pressure from unified workers’ movement, the CITU said. In another development, the central government informed that two factories of Andrew Yule would be sold; such decisions would be thwarted at all cost, CITU stated with determination in the press release.
Notably, according to the blueprint of the decision, after winding up the RMD from Kolkata, this department will be added to the captive mine units in the Bokaro and Rourkela steel plants. The move is also expected to lead to the steel generating units of the ASP, DSP and IISCO Steel Plant suffering from raw material shortage.
It can be recalled that in 1990 and 2002, similar attempts were made. In 1990, the then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu had intervened in the matter and written to the Centre after which the decision was withdrawn. In 2002, former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya wrote to the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpeyee and the decision was scrapped then as well . In 2016, also an attempt was made to divest in the steel plant units, which was thwarted by workers’ movements.
Presently, there are 150 officers and 60 contract employees working under RMD while at the plant level, there are 20,000 contract workers working in 25 mines, along with 2,500 permanent workers, employees and 500 officers. All their future will be in jeopardy if this order is materialised, according to SAIL sources.
Speaking to Newsclick, Biswapoop Banerjee of Hindustan Steel Employees Union said that before the RMD started its operation in Kolkata, SAIL was being able to use 63 % of its production capacity, and now the production capacity has increased to 85%. The production of different ingredients like crude iron, bauxite and other minerals has also increased from 95 lakh tonnes to 1.35 crore tonnes. “Behind SAIL’s last year’s profit of Rs 3,470 crores, the role of RMD is a sure one,” Banerjee said while expressing disdain that it was a plan to destablise the three steel generating units of the state as they do not have their own captive mine. “Returning to the old captive mine concept will pave the way for increased overhead cost and hamper production of the entire fraternal factories under sails disposal,” he said.
SAIL’s raw material department started its operation from Kolkata in 1989. The earlier system of arranging raw materials in a decentralised manner was leading to high material costs, and excess lead time was hindering the smooth running of different SAIL factories throughout the country. In view of this a decision was taken at that time to bring together all the 25 mines spread over West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh that were serving the SAIL as raw material suppliers. These states produce coal, iron, dolomite, limestone and other raw materials needed for producing steel in the country.
Naturally, due to the huge logistical advantage of the headquarters of Eastern and South Eastern Railways being situated in Kolkata, along with airport and other infrastructural advantages, the city paved the way for smooth operation of the raw materials department. It helped lessen the material costs and ensured smooth and timely supply to all the sister factories under the raw material division.
Unions Call for Strike on June 30 Over Delay in Wage Revision (PTI)
SAIL employees have called for a strike on June 30 to press for their wage revision demand, trade union leaders claimed on Tuesday.
The decision could affect the company's production and mining activities on that day as about two-lakh permanent and contractual workers are expected to join the cease work, they said.
Workers of another state-run steel company Rashtriya Ispat Nigam (RINL) Ltd will also join the day-long strike, the union leaders said.
The strike will be across plants and mining operations, and almost all the trade unions under the National Joint Committee for the Steel Industry (NJCS) will participate, they said.
"All members of the National Joint Committee for the Steel Industry reached consensus to go for a joint trade union action, including 24 hours’ strike on June 30 in SAIL and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd," Steel, Metal and Engineering Workers Federation of India (SMEFI)- HMS general secretary and core group member of NJCS Sanjay S Vadahavkar said.
Following the failure of wage negotiation, all the trade unions have united to carry out a protest programme, including the one-day strike, CITU national general secretary and Steel Workers' Federation of India president Tapan Kumar Sen told PTI.
"Workers of all plants and mines will join the June 30 strike," he said.
The decision to "dissolve" Steel Authority of India's raw material division headquarters in Kolkata has also irked the Trinamool Congress-backed union, the leaders claimed.
Sources had told PTI on June 12 that the company's board has decided to "dissolve the RMD and transfer control of its mines to Rourkela Steel Plant (Odisha) and Bokaro Steel Plant (Jharkhand) depending on their location".
Trade union sources said the TMC-backed union will also join the strike for the first time.
The SAIL management could not be reached for comments.
The steel major has plants at Rourkela, Durgapur, Bhilai, Bokaro, Burnpur, and about 20 coal and iron ore mines.
The company had sold close to 15 million tonnes of steel in 2020-21 fiscal and registered a net profit of Rs 3,444 crore in the fourth quarter of the financial year. It had also reduced debt by Rs 16,000 crore in FY21.