Trade Unions’ strike hits normal life, coal output; Violent clashes in West Bengal

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New Delhi | Published: September 2, 2015 6:37:53 PM

A day-long nationwide strike today impacted normal life in various parts of the country with coal production, banking operations and transport services being hit the most, while violent clashes erupted in West Bengal...

Trade union strikeUnion leaders claimed that over 15 crore organised sector workers went on the strike, call for which was given by 10 central trade unions against changes in labour laws and PSU privatisation along with their other demands. (PTI)

A day-long nationwide strike today impacted normal life in various parts of the country with coal production, banking operations and transport services being hit the most, while violent clashes erupted in West Bengal resulting in arrest of over 200 persons.

Union leaders claimed that over 15 crore organised sector workers went on the strike, call for which was given by 10 central trade unions against changes in labour laws and PSU privatisation along with their other demands. The BJP-backed BMS and NFITU however stayed away from the strike.

The impact was most visible in West Bengal, Tripura, Kerala, Karnataka, Puducherry and Odisha among other places, while partial impact was seen in Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Goa, Gujarat, Bihar and Jharkhand.

Normal life was affected in Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Rajasthan as well, but there was not much impact in the country’s financial capital Mumbai except for the banking operations.

Banking services were among the worst hit as 23 public sector banks, 12 private sector banks, 52 regional rural banks and over 13,000 cooperative banks joined the stir. However, staff at SBI, Indian Overseas Bank, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank choose to stay away from the strike.

All India Bank Employees Association General Secretary C H Venkatachalam said nearly five lakh bank employees and officers joined the strike.

State-run Coal India saw nearly half of its 1.7 million tonne daily production getting hit by the strike, as a majority of around four lakh coal workers across the country joined the strike. Union leaders, however, said the impact could be 90 per cent at Coal India, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s total coal production.

Power generation and other utilities were largely normal.

Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal said the strike would not have much impact as there was sufficient coal stock to meet any eventualities, while there was no problem at all with the electricity generation.

Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, who was part of the group of ministers that held talks with the trade unions, said that the strike “by and large has not had any major impact”.

On the other hand, the ten trade unions said in a joint statement that the response was “unprecedented” with “millions of workers” staying away from the work.

In West Bengal, nearly 200 persons were arrested from different parts after clashes occurred at some places between Left and Trinamool workers including in Murshidabad district.

Train services of South Eastern Railway and Eastern Railway were partially affected, but Metro Rail services in Kolkata remained normal.

Labour Minister Bandaru Dattatreya, who today left for Turkey along with Labour Secretary Shankar Aggarwal for G-20 Meeting, had yesterday appealed to trade unions to call off the agitation in the interest of workers and nation.

The unions, however, decided to go ahead with the strike after their talks with a ministerial panel last month failed to yield desired results on their 12-point charter of demands.

The demands included urgent measures to rein in price rise, containing unemployment, strict enforcement of basic labour laws, universal social security cover for all workers and minimum wage of Rs 15,000 per month.

They are also demanding higher pensions, stopping disinvestment in PSUs, ending contract system, removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund, compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days, no unilateral amendment to labour laws and stopping FDI in Railways and Defence.

Expressing solidarity with the day-long nationwide strike called by 10 central trade unions, Congress today blamed the government’s “utter apathy” for the workers’ agitation.

“It seems just as the Britishers wanted to benefit the East India Company at the expense of millions of labourers of this country, the Modi government wants to benefit 5-6 crony businessmen friends of this government”, the party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi told reporters.

All India Trade Union Congress Secretary D L Sachdev said that as many as five lakh industrial workers in Gurgaon region joined the strike. Workers did not turn up at Maruti Suzuki plant in Gurgaon while Honda Motorcycle plant remained closed.

“The strike has had an impact across the country and even in Delhi. In several areas, BMS people also joined the strike. Many local and affiliated unions have also joined in the strike,” All India Trade Union Congress General Secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said.

“The strike shows how much people are disenchanted with the anti-worker policy of the government and its failure to contain food prices as well as its failure to contain the economic slowdown,” he added.

The ten trade unions said in their joint statement that the buses of state transport undertakings in Haryana, Delhi, Uttarkahand, Himachal, UP and some other states stayed off the road while “defence production came to a standstill” with about half a million ordnance factory and installation workers joining the strike.

Postal services as also state-run BSNL’s telecom operations were also affected. Workers of BJP-affiliated BMS, which decided not to join the strike, joined the strike in BSNL, the statement said.

Refuelling of airlines was also impacted even though there was no shutdown of any oil and gas facility anywhere in the country.

Operations at Mumbai Port Trust were completely stopped, but cargo handling at country’s largest container port JNPT across the harbour was only partially hit as operations continued in its two private terminals.

The strike also hit state-owned NMDC out as its iron ore production went down by 75,000 tonnes across all its mines with as many as 4,200 employees staying off work. Nearly 80 per cent of the 12,000 workforce of

Visakhapatnam-based Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL) also joined the stir.

The strike was near total in Telangana-based Singareni Collieries Company Limited (SCCL) with about 80 per cent of its 58,000 employees participating in the protest.

The production at SCCL is estimated to have come down to one lakh tonne today, from a daily average of 1.5 lakh tonnes.

Cases of violent clashes were mostly reported in West Bengal and Odisha, while instances of small skirmishes also took place in the national capital, where commuters had an harrowing experience due to a large number of autorickshaws and taxis staying off roads. Delhi Metro and DTC buses saw huge rush.

Around 300 people were taken into custody in different parts of Odisha as preventive measure, but were released later. Train services were disrupted for some time at several places in the state as protesters blocked tracks near railway stations like Cuttack, Bhubaneswar, Sambalpur, Bhadrak, Chhatrapur and Khalikot. At least 10 trains got delayed.

In Kolkata, partial impact was seen on suburban trains while shops, markets and business establishments in most areas remained closed. State administration plied a large fleet of public buses to make up for lack of private buses and taxis.

In Kerala, public and private buses, taxis and autos were off roads. Shops, hotels and even small tea stalls were closed in the state.

In Tripura, vehicles did not ply on roads and markets were closed. Financial and educational institutions were closed and attendance was thin in government offices too. The gates of ONGC facility and Tripura Jute Mill were closed.

In Karnataka, government transport workers also joined the strike to protest against proposed motor bill. Buses and autorickshaws kept off the roads causing inconvenience to office goers and those travelling to far of places.

While impact of strike was visible in Puducherry, Tamil Nadu was largely unaffected.

Banking and public transport services were partially affected in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

In Goa, streets were deserted as private buses and the state transport buses remained off the roads.

The banking, transport and other services were hit in various parts of Rajasthan as well.

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