By Ajoy K Das
April 10, 2018 - The Indian government’s assurance that State-owned Coal India Limited (CIL) will “maintain its dominant industry position” after coal mining is opened up to private companies has failed to placate workers and more trade unions have joined the planned strike on April 19.
CIL workers have been opposing government’s move to end the nationalization of coal mining, barring captive production, with all major trade unions proposing a day’s strike later this month as the first step towards a more intensive agitation in the industry.
In talks between government, CIL top management and trade union representatives last week, the government maintained that the state miner was “too big a player with a dominant market share” and that private miners entering the industry would not threaten its position in the sector.
Government also pointed out that the entry of private mining would create greater job opportunities for CIL workers and even the prospect of post-retirement employment for those workers and employees currently on the payroll of the government company.
They pointed out that not only were private investors invited to enter coal mining, but that government was also planning a “disinvestment of its equity holding in CIL and thereby indicating a creeping privatization of the government company”.
Following the failure of talks between government and workers, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc) has decided to throw its weight behind the strike called by other trade unions – Centre for Indian Trade Unions, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian Workers’ Union) and All India Trade Union Congress – thereby ensuring participation of all workers organizations in CIL, representing 340 000 people.
Intuc shedding its initial hesitancy in joining the strike is significant as the union is the labour arm of the main opposition political party and had not been keen to be perceived to be teaming up with Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the labor arm of the ruling BJP government at the centee.
However, according to a trade union office bearer, protecting “CIL from the onslaught of private investors and the threat of disinvestment”, cut across political affiliations and the fact that every trade union was backing the strike call indicated the element of worker’s unity.
The trade unions have also taken note of a series of yet unconfirmed reports, taking them as an indication that the erosion of CIL’s dominance might have already started. For example, there have been reports that CIL’s production target for the 2018/19 financial year may be revised downwards. Last month, the Coal Ministry fixed a production target of 630-million tons for the current financial year, at a growth rate of 5%, even though the miner achieved a production growth of just 2.4% during the financial year ended March 31, 2018.
At the same time, the government is also perceived to be having second thoughts over the ambitious target of coal production at one-billion tons a year by 2020. In fact, according to media reports, consultant KPMG is likely to be mandated to prepare a report on whether such a production target is feasible in the first place and also whether the country’s demand warrants such levels of production.
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