Tamil Nadu Power Ltd Contract Workers on Indefinite Strike for Regularisation, Fair Wages
Photo: Contract workers, led by CITU, protest in front of the NTPS, demanding the regularisation of jobs and implementation of wage revision.
The contract employees and workers of the NLC Tamil Nadu Power Limited (NTPL) in Thoothukudi, a joint venture company of Neyveli Lignite Corporation India Limited (NLCIL) and the Tamil Nadu Generation and Distribution Corporation (TANGEDCO), have begun a strike from February 13. They are demanding permanent jobs for contract workers and employees.
Around 1,300 workers on contract have been working for the past ten years as engineers, skilled and unskilled workers in the 1000 (2x500) Megawatt plants, which became operational in June 2015. The other demands of the striking workers include weekly holidays, social welfare measures and overtime wages.
The workers are demanding the implementation of a tripartite settlement, adopted in 2020 by the NLCIL based on ‘equal wage for equal work’, in the NTPL as well since NLCIL is the primary employer in both organisations. NLCIL is a PSU under the Union Ministry of Coal.
The Central Organisation of Tamil Nadu Electricity Employees (COTEE) is leading the strike with demands for implementation of the orders passed by the Deputy Chief Labour Commissioner (DCLC) to ensure the rights of the workers.
WORKERS’ RIGHTS DENIED
The construction work of the coal-based plants began in 2009, with 89:11 share from the NLCIL and TANGEDCO. It employs 125 regular employees and 1,200 contract workers. The contract workers have been paid a daily wage of as low as Rs 450 since they joined work almost a decade ago.
The workers accuse the contract companies of exploiting them by denying them basic rights, including weekly, public and national holidays. The Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), to which the COTEE is affiliated, accused the NTPL of shedding the responsibility to ensure workers' rights.
Considering the said exploitation of the workers, the CITU approached the Labour Commissioner, demanding fair wages and rights for the workers. However, the NTPL has refused to ensure the rights through the contractors. There are around ten contract companies in NTPL.
“The NTPL has failed to implement the orders of the regional labour commissioner to save the contractors. A sit-in protest was held on June 14 and 15, 2022 after which the NTPL assured to advise the contract companies to ensure the rights of the workers, but nothing has been done so far,” a statement of the COTEE said.
The union has also accused the contract companies of forcing the engineers and supervisors to sign the 11C form to exempt them from the ambit of the Employees Provident Fund (EPF). “The company deducts 1.5 times the daily wages if a worker takes leave, which is against the laws,” the statement said.
“The workers must be ensured weekly holidays and double wages for working on national and public holidays,” said Ganapathy Suresh, president of the COTEE NTPL Plant, to NewsClick.
‘IMPLEMENT ORDERS OF DCLC’
The CITU approached the DCLC in May 2019, demanding the wages paid in NLCIL be paid to the workers in NTPS as well. The management has claimed that these two entities are different, but the CITU’s argument of the regular employees being paid similar wages in these organisations won the verdict in favour of the workers. The DCLC held an enquiry directly into the contract workers of the NTPS plant and pronounced to implement the same tripartite agreement executed in NLCIL for the contract workers in NTPS.
The orders also instructed the payment of dearness allowance every six months, and house rent and washing allowance every month, along with food and transport allowance daily, as paid to the workers in NLCIL’s Odisha plant.
“Even after the verdict of the DCLC, the NTPS management is not willing to ensure the fundamental rights of the contract workers, which the contract companies are exploiting. This practice must be brought to an end, and the rights of the worker must be ensured,” Appadurai, secretary of the NTPS unit of the CITU, told NewsClick.
The DCLC ordered the implementation of the wage revision from June 1, 2021, but the management had approached the Madras High Court seeking a stay for the orders. “The High Court refused to stay the order and directed it to pay interim relief of Rs 100 per day to the workers. But the management has obtained a stay from a bench of the court,” the CITU said.
Distressed by the continuous exploitation, the workers served strike notice on January 6, 2023, at the RLC office. In the talks held, the management promised to implement medical coverage for the workers and family members and ensure bonus and EPF for the workers before February 6, 2023. Since the promises were not fulfilled, the workers began their strike.
The CITU Thoothukudi district committee has demanded the NTPS management fulfil the promises and implement the wage revision as ordered by the DCLC.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.