Coal industry employees across the country yesterday went on a five-day strike, halting production at over 60 percent of state-run Coal India units that may also severely hit fuel supply to power plants, while talks failed late tonight to end the industrial action.
The government officials held hours-long negotiations with union representatives, but failed to convince them to call off the strike, which is being billed as the biggest industrial action since 1977.
Claiming that over 5 lakh coal industry workers across the country have gone off-work, the union leaders said they are open to negotiations at 'political' level, including with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal. On its first day itself, the strike is estimated to have caused production losses to the tune of Rs 70 crore in first two shifts yesterday, officials said.
The industrial action is in protest against 'disinvestment and restructuring of state-run Coal India' and to press for demands including the roll-back of what they call as "process of denationalising of coal sector". All five leading trade unions of the country, including the BJP-backed Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), have joined in.
Coming out of late-night talks, INTUC Secretary General S Q Zama said, "Negotiations at the secretary-level have failed, but we are open for discussions at political level, at the level of Prime Minister or Coal Minister. Around five lakh workers, including 3.5 lakh from CIL, are on strike."
CIL Chairman Sutirtha Bhattacharya, who assumed charge yesterday, said that he was hopeful that the situation would be resolved in an amicable manner.
According to union leaders, the strike was being observed by almost all employees of CIL and around 70-80 percent of SCCL (Singareni Collieries Company Ltd) workers, while 5-10 percent of staff engaged in essential services like water supply were working at some CIL subsidiaries.
To face emergency situation, CIL has sought 20 additional rakes from Railways for supply of coal, while normally about 200 rakes are supplied a day on an average. The company has stepped up supplies to power plants to tide over the likely disruption of supplies due to the strike.