Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Jul 09, 2002
Industry & Economy
Trade & Labour Unions
Lockouts overtake strikes in West Bengal
KOLKATA, July 8
IN an indication of the changing face of labour movement in the Leftist-ruled West Bengal, lockouts have increasingly been accounting for a greater proportion of mandays lost.
According to `Labour in West Bengal', an official publication of the State Labour Department, there were 305 cases of lockout in the State in 2001, which was the highest since 1995. These lockouts accounted for 93 per cent of the total 211.7 lakh mandays lost during the year affecting 12 lakh workers.
As against this, there were only 20 cases of strikes resulting in the loss of 13.7 lakh mandays and affecting two lakh workers. In 1995, there were 33 cases of strikes and 125 cases of lockouts through which 65 lakh mandays were lost.
The State's traditional industries - tea, jute, cotton and engineering - all contributed to the increased number of lockouts although the small engineering units concentrated around Hiwrah had a major share. An analysis revealed that employers cited uneconomic running, and management's intention to reduce the workforce as major reasons for the lockouts, in 167 out of the 305 cases. Alleged indiscipline contributed to 92 cases involving 49,000 workmen.
The issue of bonus payment - one of the commonest bones of contention between management and labour - contributed more to lockouts than strikes, it was found. During 2001, 425 workmen were laid off in eight cases, according to the report.
Referring to the jute industry, the report highlighted the fact that most of the jute mill employers have been resorting to unethical practices like engaging workers on basis of voucher payments - thus depriving them of statutory benefits or wages payable under the tripartite agreement.
On the cotton textile industry, the report said the industrial relation scenario here was far from satisfactory with the question of revival of the 12 mills under the National Textile Corporation still pending before the BIFR and the workers getting wages on a deferred payment basis. Very few of the 19 private sector mills were operational as the entire industry in this region was in the grip of recession, obsolescence and financial crunch.
The tea industry is better off than these industries but of late the employers' associations have been grumbling about the market recession, which they said was affecting their capability of implementing the industry-wide agreement. West Bengal accounted for 20 per cent of the tea produced in the country.
The lack of orders for the wagon industry had affected the fortune of the engineering industry and many of the big PSU units have been closed down. Quite a few of the private sector units are also under closure due to lockout and the report conceded the State Government's failure to have them reopened despite the best efforts of the State Labour Department.
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