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New jute sector initiative takes effect -- Birla Corpn unit implements productivity-linked wage pact

Kohinoor Mandal

KOLKATA, June 14

BIRLA Corporation Ltd of the M.P. Birla group, has become the first company in the jute sector to implement the productivity-linked wages agreement at its Soorah Jute Mill.

The much talked about productivity-linked wages was signed between the jute mills owners, 18 central unions and the West Bengal Government in January. It was considered to be a historic agreement, as for the first time, the productivity clause was introduced in the wages of the jute workers.

However, in the last six months, no jute mill, except that of Muralidhar Ratanlal Jute Mill, could dare to implement this new wage pact.

Every mill owner apprehended labour problems despite having a tripartite agreement.

It may be noted that the management of Muralidhar Ratanlal was the first to initiate dialogues with the trade unions to implement this pact. Immediately, the workers went on strike, and during the last three months, the company has failed to reopen the production unit called Hastings Jute Mills.

This company is headed by Mr Sanjay Kajaria, the former Chairman on Indian Jute Mills Association. The management went to court and also to the State labour department. However, these steps failed to provide a result.

The Calcutta High Court in its order dated April 19 asked the State Government to take a decision on whether the strike called by the workers was "legal''.

The labour department called the two sides for a meeting on May 14.

In its report on the meeting, Mr M. Surai, Special Secretary in the State labour department, stated that his office is not the competent authority to decide on the "legality of the strike''.

Till date, Hastings Jute Mill is lying closed. Industry sources said that Mr Kajaria is contemplating to move to the court against the decision taken by the State labour department.

It has been learnt that trade union wings of BMS, SUCI and a faction of Congress, called NFITU, is against this agreement. Incidentally, these three trade unions did not sign the tripartite agreement.

Majority of the members of Indian Jute Mills were hesitant in implementing the pact. As a result, Mr Kajaria resigned from the Chairman's post and Birla Corporation moved out of the body.

The wage agreement at the Soorah Jute Mill was signed on June 12 and it covered all the activities in the unit. In a press statement, the company noted that the trade unions were not eager to accept the new wage terms despite being signatories to the tripartite agreement.

"In this disturbing and dismal scenario, the management and unions of Soorah Jute Mills have been able to bring in a whiff of fresh air by mutually sorting out the differences and implementing the agreement,'' the press release from the company stated.

The company also appreciated the positive role played by the CITU union which "showed rationality and pragmatism'' in sorting out the differences.

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