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Coal workers' strike ends on second day

Coal workers strike ends on second day

New Delhi: Trade unions Wednesday night called off the five-day coal workers' strike after reaching a pact with the government on the second day of the crippling work stoppage against privatisation.

The announcement was made here by Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) vice president Basant Kumar Rai, as the strike badly hit output sparking concern that it would lead to power outages.

"The strike has been called off on the second day today," Rai told IANS.

A committee comprising government officials and trade union leaders will be set up to review the workers' demands. The committee will submit a report to the government, he said.

The workers were agitating against permission for mining and sale of coal in the open market. They were also demanding reduction of work days, and enhanced social security and compensation for land loss.

Striking unions said disinvestment in the coal industry was "practically leading to slavery of the workers".

BMS leader Badal Maharana told IANS the move to restructure Coal India was "against the interest of the workers and will pave the way for more corruption".

He demanded the government to stop auctioning 204 coal blocks.

Basant Kumar Rai earlier said "private companies will come and sell coal at depressed prices and (state-run) Coal India Ltd. will have no option but to cut jobs to reduce costs and compete with them".

Jibon Roy, general secretary of the Left-backed All India Coal Workers Federation (AICWF) said they were firm on not allowing disinvestment and want a return of the coalfields declared illegally auctioned by the Supreme Court to Coal India.

The five-day strike by workers against privatisation had entered the second day Wednesday, with the industry seeking its end as power plants battled severe shortages.

As unions claimed more workers had joined the protest in mines operated by Coal India Ltd. and its subsidiaries, industry associations called for talks between the government and the workers.

The BMS, affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is one of the major unions taking part in the strike that has hit hard production, particularly in mines of Coal India.

Earlier Wednesday, the industry urged the government and the unions to urgently settle the contentious issues.

The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) said the strike would only further dwindle fuel supply at a time several plants faced severe shortage.

PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Alok B. Shriram asked the unions to call off the strike against the government's move to restructure Coal India.

The restructuring was unlikely to lead to the industry's privatisation, he said.

According to Assocham, the strike would cause a loss of production of over one million tones of coal worth about Rs.200 crore a day.

Assocham secretary D.S. Rawat said that at present, around 100 MT capacity was lying idle "which translates to about Rs.60,000 crore".

The strike has the backing of five major unions -- BMS, Indian National Trade Union Congress, All India Trade Union Congress, Centre of Indian Trade Unions and Hind Mazdoor Sangh -- which represent almost 90 percent of Coal India's half-a-million workforce.

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