The miners in the government-controlled Singareni Collieries Company, the only coal mines in the South and a major source of coal supply for the region's thermal power plants, commenced an indefinitre strike from this morning. The collieries have over 92,000 miners and other employees.
The strike is mainly against "privatisation and contractisation" in the mines, though the strike call was given by the Singareni Parirakshana Committee comprising six trade unions on the basis of a 10-point charter of demands.
While the miners unions claimed that the strike is total, the SCCL authorities maintained that it was partial and mining operations in the open cast mines were not adversely affected. However, the deep mines, which are labour-intensive, had been affected badly.
Singareni Collieries daily output is around 1 lakh tonnes of coal and 60 per cent of this production was affected by the strike.
After prolonged negotiations between the management and the unions had failed, the government entusted the issue to a cabinet sub-committee, which held discussions throughout last night, but in vain.
Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who is leaving for the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos in Switzerland, regretted the workers' action and hoped better sense would pervail on them and they would return to normal functioning.
He said SCCL, which had total accumulated losses of Rs 1,219 crore (Rs 12.19 billion) in 1996-97 and referred to BIFR, had been on the revival path over the past years, mainly because of the measures initiated by the state government and the centre agreeing to reschedule the Rs 663 crore (Rs 6.63 billion) loan.
A net profit of Rs 160 crore (Rs 1.6 billion) was projected for the current fiscal and for the first time in 37 years a dividend was on the anvil. The production recorded was also the highest-ever at 32.5 million tonnes.
"A strike at this critical juncture is uncalled for. I had assured the unions and I once again reiterate that there will be no privatisation or retrenchment in the SCCL," Naidu said and added that the manner in which the strike was gone through made him suspect a definite pattern behind it.
The call was given by the unions affiliated to the left parties and the Congress also lent support to it.
The chief minister said SCCL had been implementing the national coal wage agreements and the decisions of the joint bi-partite committee for the coal industry. It had a unique scheme of sharing with the miners 10 per cent of the net profit.
The company was spending considerable amount on welfare of the miners, which had increased from Rs 82 crore *Rs 820 million) in 1992 to Rs 277 crore (Rs 2.77 billion) last year.
The average earning per worker in the colliery had also increased from Rs 83,963 in 1997-98 to Rs 1,31,202 last year.
Naidu said the workers had opposed the outsourcing of certain works in the open cast mines. This was a practice prevalent in all the coal mines n the country. By outsorucing this particular work, the profitability of the company had improved and it had not displaced any workman.
The chief minister said power generation in the state would not be affected by the strike. SCCL had considerable surplus coal and the supply line would be maintained. But the strike would affect the overall economy of the mines, he added.