MAC: Mines and Communities

Indian contract workers are joining mining unions

Published by MAC on 2013-03-05
Source: Industriall

But many still left out

Last month, a number of Indian trade unions joined togther to demand (among other objectives) an end to the widespread practice of using sub-contracted labour.

One of the unions, the Indian National Mineworkers Federation, organises in the country's major coalfields.

The move is clearly welcome.

However,  many other workers, in less highly-visible sectors of the industry, continue suffering from being "employed" by sub- contractors who don't provide fair wages and adequate safety measures - let alone pensions and other benefits.

As reported on the MAC website, among the companies profiting from this delinqency is Vedanta Resources plc.

Two  Vedanta sub-contractors were recently held responsible for causing the deaths of a least 42 labourers in September 2009 at Korba, in Chhattisgarh - as was Vedanta itself. See: Vedanta found guilty of grave safety breaches in India

But, to date, none of the UK-listed company's top staff or board has been arraigned before a British court on charges of corporate killing.

According to recent legal advice, this is problematic: Vedanta would likely seek to apportion responsibility to its Indian subsidiary, Balco ,which in turn would accuse the two sub-contracting firms.

Indian contract workers join mining unions

Industriall Union statement

22 February 2013

On 20-21 February, Indian trade union members joined a massive general strike calling, among other demands, for an end to contracting out of permanent work.

One of the participating unions, the Indian National Mineworkers' Federation (INMF) has been developing a specific and systematic organizing campaign for workers in precarious employment. Since 2002, INMF has already organized 66,869 precarious workers.

"Union strength is dependent on membership. We have to organize contract workers, unionize them, fight for them and increase our strength," Mr. B.K. Das, General Secretary of INMF.

The number of permanent workers in Indian coal mines has fallen rapidly from 700,000 in 2000 to 300,000 today and is expected to reach 100,000 by 2016.

However, the workforce has not decreased. Contract workers have progressively replaced permanent workers, making organizing contract workers a priority for the INMF. The federation started to systematically organize precarious workers in many companies including Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Western Coalfields (WCL), and South Eastern Coalfields Limited.

Having agreed an action plan, INMF organized a series of awareness raising workshops involving trade union leaderships in the different coal fields, then embarked on a systematic mapping of the workplaces, collecting information on precarious workers and identifying potential organizers among contract workers.

Supported by IndustriALL's precarious work project, a training program was developed to train permanent and contract worker organizers, while education workshops for precarious workers encouraged them to struggle for equal or at least better treatment. All sectors of mine operations were covered: women workers were trained to organize contract women cleaning workers in the mining companies.

The INMF has been able to build a successful organizing campaign in the face of hostility from the mining companies. One of the strengths of the campaign has been to make visible what the unions have achieved for precarious workers in the different coalmines. Sharing information on the achievements of the unions has helped make contract workers realize that their struggles are winnable and encouraged them to mobilize.

Throughout the campaign, the INMF has followed the principle of organizing contract workers into the same unions rather than dividing the workforce through the creation of separate unions.

However in some cases, delays occurred due to the process to amend union statutes and a number of separate unions for contract workers were created, including the Asansole Coalfields Contract Workers' Union (9,600 members) and the Mahanadi Coal Fields Contractual Transport Workers Union (10,375 members), closely monitored and supported by existing unions.

Building stronger unions has enabled precarious workers to achieve improvements to their working conditions. Through collective bargaining, the Mahanadi Coal Fields Contractual Transport Workers' Union has secured regular payment of wages through the bank, deduction of provident fund contributions, access to medical facilities in the company hospitals and annual bonuses.

At national level, their increased strength has helped Indian unions to successfully mobilise to secure an agreement in 2012, which grants a substantial increase in wages and other allowances for precarious workers in the public sector coal industry.

The INMF has shown that organizing precarious workers is not only possible, but that it increases the power of all workers to negotiate better pay and working conditions.

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