On September 30, representatives of 13 Unions and organizations met in Mumbai. The leadership of Lok Raj Sangathan, All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), Indian Commercial Pilots Association(ICPA), Air India Aircraft Engineers Association(AIAEA), Western Railway Motormen’s Association(WRMA), All India Service Engineers Association(AISEA), All India Railway Employees Confederation(AIREC), Air India Employees Union(AIEU), Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors(MARD), National Federation of Postal Employees(NFPE), All India Voltas Employees Federation(AIVEF), Primary Teachers Union(BMC) and Ladaku Garment Kamgar Sangathan participated.
The representative of Lok Raj Sangathan welcomed everybody and proposed the agenda for the meeting. He said it was good that in addition to all the organizations that were present at the last meeting on June 17th, more organizations were represented.
The representative of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) said that the pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines were fighting for pay parity with Air India pilots. He criticized the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines. Before the merger Air India’s loss was Rs 200 crores. Now the losses have increased to Rs20,000 crores last year. The ICPA had asked the previous Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel, to make the reasons for the merger open. But this was not done. The Managing Director of Air India, Mr.ArvindJadhav gave over 32 profitable routes to the private airlines while simultaneously cutting down on the privileges of the employees. This benefitted Kingfisher, Jet Airways and Indigo. He said they tried many times to negotiate with the management about their demands, but the management was not interested in addressing the concerns of the employees. It did not show up even in the hearings in front of the chief Labour commissioner. Now they have cut down the flying hours of Pilots to 40 hours from the earlier 60-70 hours, which has reduced their salaries by nearly a half, since the pay of the pilots is linked to the hours of flying. Hence they were forced to go on strike in April-May’2011. For the last three months the employees of Air India have not been paid their salaries!
The representative of the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) explained that their main fight was against the stressful working conditions, proper and just wages and for safety of passengers. Loco drivers have very long and strenuous working hours. They have to catch their sleep and freshen up far away from their homes in retiring rooms which are in pathetic condition. The Ex-President Of India Dr. Kalam had personally instructed to provide retiring rooms of the level of at least 3 Star hotels, but nothing has been done on this score. Vacancies have not been filled up resulting in additional work load which is very unsafe for passengers as well, and hence they are fighting to fill up all the vacancies. They are fighting to get rid of many unjust anomalies in the 6th Pay Commission. For example the entry scale for a loco driver has now been put on par with Khalasis completely ignoring the fact that educational qualification, nature of work, nature of responsibility of drivers is very different. Another anomaly is that right from Senior Shunter to Mail Driver,all have been kept on one grade! Their arrears of running allowance have not been paid for 3 years, etc. He announced that on 15th November Engine Drivers all over India will go on fast and protest in front of the respective divisional and zonal headquarters.
The representative of theWestern Railway Motormen’s Association said that their demands were very similar to those of the engine drivers. Motormen have to work without a weekly off as well as during National Holidays without adequate compensation. The restrooms provided for the motormen for taking rest in the night were overcrowded and they were not able to get proper sleep. This was a risk to the safety of the travelling public. The job responsibility and salaries were not commensurate.
Com. Rath from the All India Railway Employees Confederation(AIREC) said that wages should be linked to knowledge, education, work content, risk, skill required and standards of medical fitness required. He said that a 40 hour week is justified for motormen. But they have to work for 52 hours per week with irregular working hours for 7 days a week. What will be the impact on their stress levels, he wondered.
The representative of theAir India Aircraft Engineers Association(AIAEA )said that the Air India management wants to hive off the Air India Engineering Department. To justify this they are showing huge profit projections. But when we ask them what is the roadmap for this, they give no reply. Also why should profits come only after hiving off? We feel these are all moves to dismantle Air India and eventually sell off the huge assets owned by it to private sector players.
The representative of the National Federation of Postal Employees(NFPE), said that he would not like to speak only about his sector, but the situation facing the working class. He appreciated the Lok Raj Sangathan’s effort at convening this meeting. He said it is very important for the working class to build its unity and this meeting is very important step in this direction. We should protect what we are building and make sure it grows. He also said that the entire bourgeois media is against us. They portray the workers in a negative light. Just now we have heard of the harsh working conditions of Train drivers as well as pilots. If pilots and train drivers are under stress what will be its effect on the safety of the travelling public? This is never reported by the media. He said the Government and all the big political parties are against us. The government wants to privatize all profitable public sector undertakings. He said the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh was in the IMF and he was straight away made the FM by the big multinationals and Indian corporations. He is serving their agenda.
Com Vilas Giridhar, Working President, All India Service Engineers Association (AISEA), said that even if we give proper notice and go on strike the management declares it illegal. The courts fully support them and are against us. So we have to challenge this. Our Union, though it has 90% of the support of the employees is not given recognition by the management. To prove our support we organized a secretballot, but the management sabotaged it fearing the result.
Dr.PankajNalawade, General Secretary, Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors(MARD), said that MARD is the largest and strongest organization of its type in Asia. He said we are forced to go on strike since the government does not listen. We are on duty for 24hours for all the 365 days. We are fighting for fixed duty hours with a weekly off. We also want living condition improvement. As per the statutes it is mentioned that only 2 persons should occupy a 10 feet x10 feet room. But for us 5 people share a room. The number of junior doctors is increasing but there are no additional rooms. Two weeks ago we told the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai to visit our rooms. But he did not come. IbAIIMS, Delhi, only 40 resident doctors are taken per year and they have a 300 acre campus. Everybody has a separate room, with computer etc. How are we supposed to study as well as look after the patients with such improper facilities?In the hospitals we are on duty for 36 hours at a stretch. Too many relatives come with the patients and this disturbs us. We are demanding security as due to lack of facilities the patients attack the Doctors. But even for these three demands the government is not sympathetic.
Com ParagAjgaonkar, Working President, Air India Employees Union(AIEU), said that the entire media as well as the Central Government are against us. Recently they privatized the ground handling operations at Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi and Cochin. They were given to a Singapore based company and AISAT(Air India Singapore Airport Terminal). Here the Singapore company did not have to put in any capital, but the profit making section of Air India in these cities was handed over to them on a platter. When we filed an RTI, we got the reply that this is a commercial secret!
Com Nambiar, All India General Secretary, All India Voltas Employees Federation(AIVEF), said that Voltas is a profit making Tata Company. Whereas 10 years ago there were 8,000 workers with 2,000 management staff, now there are only 600 workers with 3,000 management staff and 8,000 contract workers. He said we have been fighting to make the contract workers into regular workers. The management is trying all means to crush our struggle. We are on a continuous relay hunger strike at our headquarters in Chinchpokli. We recently went to Delhi and demonstrated. He said Ratan Tata is portrayed nicely in the media. But the actual fact is that he will have tea with contract workers but their salary remains at Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 per month!
The representative of LRS said that we should decide on two actions. A) To support all struggling workers, by bringing out joint leaflets to be distributed amongst all the constituents of this body as well as among the public. Immediately on Nov 15, we need to bring out a leaflet to support the AILRSA struggle. B) To collect the individual struggles of all the constituent Unions of this body and compile them for circulation amongst all the members.
These suggestions were welcomed by those present and a committee was elected for this purpose.
The struggle of the Maruti Suzuki workers was explained and an appeal for support was circulated and signed by all those present.
In conclusion it was decided that the next meeting should take place after two months.
MEL considers this initiative of the trade unions of several large scale industries and services as a significant step in preparing the working class to halt and defeat the ongoing capitalist offensive spearheaded by the biggest monopolies and the Central government which is openly working in the interests of these monopolies.