By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Though the Calcutta High Court direction on February 10 to Coal India to allow Indian National Mineworkers’ Federation (INMF) to participate in the meetings of the Joint Bipartite Committee on Coal Industry (JBCCI) is a victory to the trade union, this humiliating order does not seem to have any moral impact on the Narendra Modi government, as the sources have indicated further delay in wage negotiations.
According to the sources, the full bench meeting of JBCCI may be held in March after the Holi celebrations. However, formation of subcommittee to finalize coal wage agreement is still uncertain, making the final decision doubtful in the near future.
The sources in the Coal India have said that no trade union has sent names of their representatives for the sub-committee. The reason behind this is said to be division among the trade unions on the issue of formation of sub-committee. It is despite the fact that an agreement was reached on Minimum Guarantee Benefit (MGB) in the last meeting of JBCCI. A letter was sent by Coal India to all trade unions asking them to send the names of their representatives for the sub-committee.
It should be noted that JBCCI comprising of representatives of management and central trade unions is constituted every five years to finalize the National Coal Wage Agreement (NCWA) for determining the wages of non-executive employees, including contract workers, in Coal India and its subsidiaries, and the Singareni Collieries Company. The committee also takes decisions on other issues, such as social security concerning workers in the coal industry.
The 11th JBCCI, which is the latest one, was constituted in 2021 as per the direction of the Union Ministry of Coal, but INMF was not included in the committee. The reason was obvious – Union Government is led by BJP that has shown its preference for BMS against all other Central Trade Unions, for which it has been criticized at all national and international fora, such as ILO and trade unions across the world. INMF, which was not included in the Committee, is affiliated to one of the central trade unions, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) which is affiliated to the Congress.
INMF had contested its exclusion, which was politically motivated, and challenged the Coal India’s unfair decision to prevent its participation in the wage negotiation process in the Calcutta High Court. On February 10, the court passed a judgement in favour of INMF and directed Coal India to permit INMF to participated in the forthcoming meetings of JBCCI.
There are presently five trade unions in the JBCCI – BMS, AITUC, HMS, CITU, and INMF (INTUC). Coal India Limited (CIL) had proposed formation of a JBCCI sub-committee to decide over miners’ issues of wages, promotion of medical benefits and others. However, none of the trade unions agreed on it.
Before the order of the Calcutta High Court to include INMF or INTUC into the JBCCI, the CIL Executive Director Ajay Kumar had sent letter to four trade unions – BMS, AITUC, HMS and CITU to send two names by February 10 for the JBCCI sub-committee.
HMS and CITU have outright opposed the JBCCI sub-committee. The BJP and RSS supported BMS is still undecided over the issue. However, AITUC has lately support the formation of the sub-committee.
The CITU has favoured a full bench of JBCCI to decide all the matters. CITU’s representative in the JBCCI Arup Chatterjee has said when all has already been done then there is no need of forming a sub-committee.
Saying that the full bench of JBCCI is a long standing demand of the trade unions, the HMS member in the JBCCI Siddharth Gautam has opposed the formation of the sub-committee and demanded a full bench meeting of the JBCCI.
Within the BMS there are differences. Some of the leaders support full bench of JBCCI but others are yet undecides on both sub-committee or the full bench.
AITUC alternate JBCCI member Lakhan Lal Mahto has supported the formation of the sub-committee.
Several trade union leaders wonder if any decision in the sub-committee is to be finally ratified by full bench of JBCCI, then what is the use of having it?
Rashtriya Colliery Mazdoor Union (RCMU) has outright opposed it. RCMU general secretary AK Jha has even said that both the sub-committee or full bench does not matter until CIL makes its intention clear. RCMU has even rejected the 19 per cent MGB signed on January 3, JBCCI meet.
The issue of JBCCI is import for several reasons, since all the five central trade unions have shown their unity in the past, especially in July 2020’s 72 hours strike in coal mines that had brought the entire coal mines operations in the country to a near-total halt. As many as 5.3 lakh coal miners (about 95 per cent) had participated in that strike. Coal miners are even now resolved to continue their agitation against anti-workers policies of the Centre and its move to open up coal sector to private players.
Now, after the Calcutta High Court direction to CIL to include INMF in wage negotiations, the entire issues of miners will have a new twist. (IPA Service)