Coal India workers threaten strike over salary revision panel

Aggrieved with the Centre and Coal India (CIL) for not making a headway in forming a Joint Bipartite Committee for Coal Industry (JBCCI), which will negotiate with the workers over a salary hike, the five central trade unions are thinking of resorting to “industrial action”, in case JBCCI doesn’t take shape by July 15.

This committee was supposed to be formed by the end of June when the ninth National Coal Wage Agreement (NCWA) elapsed.

“On April 27, we had submitted a request to the coal ministry as well as the company to form the JBCCI as the ninth NCWA has lapsed and a fresh wage negotiation needs to take place. However, it was not heeded to and now an ultimatum has been given,” S Q Zama, secretary general of (Indian National Trade Union Congress) INTUC-backed Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation, told Business Standard, adding the five central trade unions will resort to strikes after July 15.

Believing CIL to stage a turnaround in its sales as the demand for coal condition eases over time, the trade unions have demanded a hike of 50 per cent in  wages in the forthcoming tenth NCWA.

“A 50 per cent wage hike is highly unlikely given the circumstances the company is facing,” a senior Coal India official told this newspaper.

Sluggish demand from power utilities for quite some time now has been a constraining factor which has resulting in muted off-take of coal. The coal fired thermal power stations continue to remain in a  comfortable situation with a coal stock of 30.51 mt ending June 2016 which is 22 days stock with no power station in critical or supercritical condition.

However, sources close to the trade unions said although the workers have demanded a 50 per cent raise, they may settle for a little over the previous term’s hike. In the ninth NCWA, trade unions had settled for a 25 per cent hike in their salaries coupled with other benefits.

“Hiking the salary considerably will not be a problem for Coal India. It has enough cash reserves and the recent price hike of coal will also better its income”, Zama added.

In May-end, Coal India lowered the effective prices of the G1-G5 grades of coal by 1.8-29 per cent, while raised the prices of G6-G17 grades by 13.4-18.6 per cent which resulted in average coal prices climbing 6.3 per cent. This move, according to the trade unions and the company, will help earn an extra Rs 3,234 crore.

However, owing the share buyback move, the company is expected to part with atleast Rs 6,000 crore from an estimated cash reserve of Rs 38,000 crore.

While the coal secretary, Anil Swarup has given the company directives over formation of the JBCCI, no timeline has been narrowed upon.

“I have already given some instructions to Coal India but I can’t give a date when JBCCI will be formed. The government doesn’t directly engage with the trade unions in the wage revision process,” Swarup told this newspaper.

Coal India officials, who are already finding it hard to rationalise production under a tepid demand scenario are also troubleshooting issues like depleting pension fund.

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