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In one of the biggest directindustrial protests in recent times, over 500 000 coal workers across India went on a five-day strike on Tuesday as negotiations failed. Trade union representative said that talks between the unions and government lasted for several hours on Tuesday, with discussions taking place until midnight, but unions said that the government officials had nothing to offer to reverse the “denationalisation of the coal sector”.
The government, in turn, said that the trade unions were “adamant” on their stand.
“Negotiations at the secretary level have failed. But we are open for discussions at the political level either with the Prime Minister or the Coal Minister,” Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation secretary general S Q Zama said after the failed talks.
“We did our best to arrive at a solution but the coal secretary has its own limitations and around 350 000 workers of Coal India Limited (CIL) commenced their strike today,” CIL chairperson Sutirtha Bhattacharya said.
Significantly, Tuesday was the second day at the office for Bhattacharya after he took charge as chairperson of CIL.
Government estimated about 75% of the country’s daily coal production of around 1.5-million tonnes was affected by the strike.
The direct industrial actions, the biggest in the country since railway workers’ went on strike in 1977, was to protest the proposed restructuring of CIL, divestment of government equity holding in the largest mining company and trade unions’ apprehensions of “denationalisation of the Indian coal sector” through the government’s recent liberalisation of coal mining with the proposed permitting of private investors into the sector.
The strike impacted production at major government-owned and -managedcoal mining companies like Singareni Collieries Company Limited, Neyveli Liginte Company Limited, as well as CIL, with the latter accounting for over 80% of domestic coal supplies.
The strike was being supported by all major trade unions representing coalmine workers in the country including, Indian National Trade Union Congress, Centre for Indian Trade Unions, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), All India Trade Union Congress and Hind Mazdoor Sangh. Ironically, BMS was the labour arm of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which headed the current Indian federal government in New Delhi.
Among the largest coal consumers, thermal power companies, including the largest, government-owned NTPC Limited, refused to comment on the prospect of coal shortages resulting from the strike on the plea of the political nature of the industrial unrest.
However, data from government electricity policy-making body, Central Electricity Authority, showed that of the 100 thermal power plants, 42 had coalsupplies of less than a week, on January 1. (Source: Miningweekly)