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Coal India unions call off strike after two days

The strike by coal workers across the country was called off after Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal and Coal India Chairman S Bhattacharya met representatives of trade unions.

Krishna N Dasand Jatindra Dash | January 8, 2015 | Updated 09:31 IST
Coal India unions call off strike after two days
(Photo: Reuters)

Coal India (CIL) unions, protesting against a move to open up the industry to private firms, called off a five-day strike on its second day on Wednesday after a meeting with Coal and Power Minister Piyush Goyal, staving off a looming power crisis.

The strike by coal workers across the country was called off after Goyal and CIL chairman Sutirtha Bhattacharya met representatives of trade unions.

Goyal said that there are no plans for denationalisation and interests of CIL employees will be protected.

Coal Secretary Anil Swarup confirmed to Reuters that the strike was called off.

A union leader said they decided to end the strike late on Wednesday after Goyal agreed to form a committee to look into any issues with a recently passed executive order, which would allow private companies to mine and sell the fuel for the first time in 42 years.

"We have withdrawn the strike," said Jibon Roy, general secretary of the All India Coal Workers Federation, adding, "The minister agreed to form a committee... They will see what are the problems in the ordinance (executive order). Normal discussions on other demands will continue."

The company accounts for about 80 per cent of the country's total output and strikes have previously crippled power plants, hampering government efforts to reform the coal industry. Coal fuels 60 per cent of the domestic power production.

Coal India struggled to produce and ship less than half of its daily target on Tuesday, the first day of the strike, threatening to exacerbate a shortage of the fuel.

Known for its industry-lagging productivity, state-run miner Coal India has fallen short of its output targets for the last six years, making the country the third-largest coal importer despite sitting on the world's fourth-largest reserves of the fuel.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ministers have said that increasing competition is key to ending the country's power shortage. But miners fear this will lead to pay and job cuts at CIL, which has come to be seen as an exemplar for deep-rooted inefficiency in state enterprise.

The state-owned mining company digs out about 1,100 tonnes of coal per employee a year, compared with 36,700 tonnes per employee at US-based Peabody Energy and 12,700 tonnes per employee at China's Shenhua Energy, according to industry body ASSOCHAM in the national capital.

It produced 645,000 tonnes on Tuesday, less than half of its usual daily output target at this time of year, mainly using contract workers, a company official told Reuters.

CIL dispatched about 800,000 tonnes from new output and stocks from railway sidings, another official said.

The PSU mining company has a permanent workforce of 286,196, excluding supervisors and executives, and also employs about 65,000 contract workers.

(Reuters; With Mail Today inputs)

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