Durgapur Steel writes to state minister to rein on fighting unions

Factional feud among the two rival factions of INTTUC has forced the Durgapur Steel Plant (DSP) management to write to Subrata Mukherjee, the national president of Trinamool’s labour arm INTTUC and minister of the state government seeking help and intervention.

Durgapur Steel Plant’s Administrative Building

It is perhaps an unprecedented event when higher management of a PSU had to write to political bosses of the ruling state government echoing concern about factory expansion works due to factional feud of the ruling party’s labour union.

Sources said the steel plant, a unit of SAIL, was compelled to write to Subrata Mukherjee, after continuous feud between two factions of INTTUC cast a cloud on the Rs 3,500-crore modernisation project. The upgrade plan, aimed at increasing capacity and improving quality of the products, has become hostage to repeated incidents of muscle-flexing by two unions of the ruling state government, both claiming affiliation to Trinamool.

The tow fighting unions — the newly set up DSP Thika (contract) Mazdoor Union headed by veteran labour leader Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay and the Durgapur Steel Plant Thika Sramik Congress headed by state INTTUC president Dola Sen, are allegedly forcing the DSP authorities to employ their supporters as contract labourers.

A Trinamool source said, that a copy of the letter had been forwarded to industries minister Partha Chatterjee. “Subsequently, two senior DSP officials met Mukherjee at Writers.” The source added by saying that the tug-of-war was the fallout of a tussle between Chattopadhyay, a former INTTUC national president, and Sen, a close aide of
Trinamool supremo, Mamata Banerjee.

The DSP general manager in charge of personnel and administration, Kamakshi Raman, said a letter had been sent to the state administration. “It will not be proper for me to comment on this,” she said, declining to divulge the contents of the letter.

Government sources said the DSP had in the letter, sent about two weeks ago, explained in detail the problems it was facing at the plant.

DSP sources said the company was in the process of hiring over 2,200 workers on contract on a monthly salary of Rs 10,000-11,000 on average. “But both the unions want their supporters to be hired and the plant authorities don’t know what to do,” said a senior official with the company’s human resource department.

Factionalism in factories had reared its head in the immediate aftermath of the Left exit from the government and the disintegration of the crony system it had put in place over decades. The developments in DSP suggest Trinamool has yet to bring order on the labour front.

The problem of multiple factions had been cited earlier in Haldia. Although industrialists have apprised the government of the problem, it is not known if any company had formally written to a Trinamool leader on the issue before this.

Minister Subrata Mukherjee said the government was keenly observing the developments at DSP. He said the INTTUC had not granted affiliation to the DSP Thika Mazdoor Union, the one led by Chattopadhyay.
“But the DSP management should not have allowed the unions to handle job distribution among contract labourers,” Mukherjee said.

But the modernisation project is already running behind schedule. “The feud is affecting work on two of the most crucial units being modernised — the bloom and round caster and the medium structural mill,” a DSP official said.
“Work got delayed as the gate passes of existing workers were taken away by the warring unions. Activists,” another official of DSP said.

Contract workers require gate passes to enter the plant site. The company’s personnel department issues the gate passes on a monthly basis.

Now it’s to be seen how the government reacts to the appeal of DSP management and how Trinamool Congress minister, Subrata Mukherjee can rein in to stop the warring unions.

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