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Indian coal unions plan nationwide strike

12 May, 2017Around half a million coal workers in India are set to hold a three-day nationwide strike from 19 to 21 June, 2017 over pensions and wages. 

In a meeting on 9 May, central trade unions including BMS, INTUC, HMS, AITUC and CITU, issued a strike notice to the ministry of coal and the heads of Coal India Ltd and Singareni Collieries Company Ltd.  The unions are protesting against the proposals to merge Coal Miners Provident Fund (CMPF) with the Employees Provident Fund (EPF), which will radically reduce workers’ pensions.

Rajendra Prasad Singha, General Secretary of the Hind Khadan Mazdoor Federation (HKMF) said:

“ Trade unions are deeply concerned that the proposed merger of coal miners’ exclusive social security fund CMPF with the EPF will exclude a large number of coal workers from pension coverage and reduce their existing pension.”

S Q Zama, Secretary General of Indian National Mine workers’ Federation, said:

“The government is playing with the welfare of coal workers.  A new wage agreement for coal workers is long overdue as the previous agreement expired on 30 June 2016. We are opposing the government’s unilateral move to merge CMPF and EPF.  The INTUC, together with central trade unions, will take part in the strike to protect workers’ interests.”

During the previous 9th National Coal Wage Agreement coal workers were awarded a 25 per cent wage increase but now, the coal ministry is trying to limit the wage increase to mere 15 per cent.  In addition, many workers’ welfare issues that were agreed in previous negotiations are yet to be implemented.

Coal India is one of the biggest employers of precarious workers in India, with around 100, 000 contract workers in various subsidiaries. Coal unions oppose the recruitment of contract workers for jobs that are core activities, and demand that, until contract work is stopped, they should be paid on a par with permanent workers for equal work.

The central trade unions’ charter of demands is:

  1. Stop the merger of CMPF and EPF pension funds.
  2. Continue the CMPF pension as it exists.
  3. Full implementation of the 9th National Coal Wage Agreement.
  4. Early settlement of 10th wage negotiations for coal miners.
  5. Stop contract system of labour. Until the contract system is stopped, contractor employees should be paid equal wages for equal work.
  6. Restore double wages for working on rest days and stop the ceiling on overtime payments.
  7. Withdraw the decision to close coalmines.

In the run up to nationwide strike, union representatives from various subsidiaries of Coal India will hold joint union conventions. Should the three-day strike take place, it will have a deep impact on coal production as the unions represent more than 90 percent of workforce in the coal industry.