Coal India unions spurn talks, go ahead with massive strike

With last-ditch reconciliation efforts failing, the trades unions of state-run monopoly Coal India Ltd and its various subsidiaries today launched a five-day strike, which they termed the biggest industrial action for any sector since 1977.

The unions have gone on strike to protest against ''disinvestment and restructuring of state-run Coal India'' and to press for other demands, including the roll-back of what they call as "process of denationalising of coal sector".

All India Coal Workers Federation leader Jibon Roy said in a statement that about 700,000 workers are joining the strike, even as the union government called another meeting today with representatives of the major trades unions - BMS, INTUC, AITUC, CITU and HMS - to sort out the issue.

The strike can affect coal production of up to 1.5 million tonnes a day and may also hit supplies to power plants, which are already grappling with fuel shortages. (See: Unions unite to threaten massive 5-day coal strike)

"We are hopeful the situation would be resolved in an amicable manner. The precise impact of the strike would be known later and it would be premature to predict (the impact) at this juncture," CIL's recently appointed chairman Sutirtha Bhattacharya said.

"It is true that production picks up tempo in the last quarter, as the closure of fiscal draws near. It is unfortunate that the unions have called the strike [at this juncture]. We have appealed to them to withdraw the strike in the national interest and even now our efforts are on to persuade them to refrain from striking," he said.

The trades unions have twice boycotted meetings earlier called by the government.

"The workers across the nation have proceeded on strike," Indian National Mineworkers' Federation (INMF) secretary-general S Q Zama said, while adding that the strike began from the first shift starting 6 am on Tuesday.

"Almost 100 per cent of Coal India (CIL) workers are participating in the agitation. Only a handful of emergency services are continuing," he said, while adding that around 70-80 per cent of SCCL (Singareni Collieries Company Ltd) workers are also protesting.

A Coal India official said, "There is picketing outside CIL headquarters in Kolkata as of now."

The protest comes at a time when power plants across the country are grappling with fuel shortages. Coal India Ltd had earlier said that it has already stepped up supplies of the power plants, which have been facing fuel shortages, to tide over the likely disruption of supplies due to the strike.

Coal India, which accounts for over 80 per cent of domestic coal production and is also the world's single largest coal producer, has a workforce of over 3 lakh.

All five major trade unions of the coal PSU had boycotted a meeting called by coal and power minister Piyush Goyal last week.

Meanwhile, even the electricity workers' union EEFI has supported the strike.