Since 21st April, 13,000 contract workers belonging to Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) are on strike at Neyveli (Tamil Nadu). They are fighting for equal wage for their work and regularization of their employment. Even after 13 rounds of talks held between the unions and management, no settlement has been reached.
The strike is being led by CPI, CPI-M, DMK parties unions namely AITUC, CITU, LPF respectively. The contract workers got an increase in pay of just Rs 60 during their previous contract in 2010. Many of the labourers are living on a wage of just Rs. 5000 even after years of service. On the other hand, regular workers who are doing similar work get seven times more than the contract workers. Considering the recent price rise in essential commodities, fuel cost, education, medical expenses etc., it is impossible for the contract workers to live on such a pathetically low wages. However, the management has not conceded even a single one of the workers demands by pointing out that as per their previous contract, next change in the contract will only be in 2015!
NLC is generating power from Neyveli and selling it to all the southern states. Though the capacity of the plant is increasing, there has been no corresponding increase in regular employment. Instead, these gaps are being filled with the help of contract workers. Nearly 70% of mining activities is being done by contract workers. Even though they work under such hazardous conditions, their salary and social security benefits hardly mirrors this sacrifice.
NLC boss gets Rs. 35 lakhs! Contract worker earns Rs. 60,000 !!
NLC is one of the profit-making public sector units. 93% of shares is nominally held by the President of India. This year it made a profit of nearly Rs.1,411.33. crores as against Rs.1,298.33 crore last year. The executive director of NLC takes a remuneration of nearly Rs. 35 lakhs per annum apart from bonus, etc. When an employee in the management is getting such a huge amount as salary, the contract workers who is doing the actual real work on the ground is being made to live on a salary which is not even equivalent to 2% of wages of the executive director. It shows how unfair the disparity is between the management and the contract workers.
NLC, a public sector, is behaving like any other private company. Even after DMK MP T R Baalu raised this issue in the last session of the parliament, Central government which is the major share holder in the company, did not appear keen at all to resolve the issue in favour of the workers. There is ample proof that government is working against the interests of the workers and they simply cannot imagine sharing profits of the company with the workers themselves.
United mass action of the Working Class across country is urgently needed
The struggle being waged by the NLC contract workers is important in the sense that it has challenged the current system of contract employment which has become the norm of employment ever since the unleash of neo-liberal reforms in India two decades ago. NLC workers struggle is in line with the long lists of strikes that have occurred in India recently since 2011.
More struggles will be the order of the day, but unless backed by a decisive political leadership questioning the very exploitative system of capitalism linking it to a generalised working class struggle for Democratic Socialism, the reformist unions will once again channel these struggles along the lines of compromises and shady deals and push the possibility of building a decisive struggle for a fundamental change.