Bengal workers to lose right to strike

Amidst protests and threats of agitation by different trade unions, West Bengal labour minister Purnendu Bose today defended his tough stand against full trade union rights of state government employees, claiming that as per the Trade Union Act, 1926 not a single employees organisation in the state was registered at present. ''I am not moving a single inch from my stand that government employees enjoy no full trade union rights and it is to be kept in mind that Writers' Buildings (state secretariat) is not a factory where political processions or any activities other than work are allowed,'' Bose told reporters in his office. Ignoring sharp criticism and protests from various trade unions and political parties at his move, Bose said as per the West Bengal government servants' conduct rules, 1959, no employee enjoys full trade union rights. He said he would submit his proposals to the state cabinet to revoke a section of the West Bengal government servants' conduct rules of 1959, for approval. ''My idea is to restore full work culture and to stop, once and for all, processions, political slogans and all sorts of activities which stall normal working environment in a government office,'' he said. This section, he said, was brought in following an amendment by previous Left Front government in 1980, causing dichotomy. The minister said that he was of the view that under the Societies Act, government employees can register their associations or federations for welfare activities of their organisations. ''In that case, if there exists one federation or association, it is easier for the government to hear their grievances or demands,'' he said. "We are keen on removing the dichotomy on the rights of government employees. The matter will be placed before the state cabinet meeting for approval," he said without specifying the date.

The state government will bring an amendment to the West Bengal Service Rules (Duties and Obligation) Act to withdraw the full trade union right of the state government employees in the next session of the West Bengal Assembly. State labour minister Purnendu Bose said that the labour department would make a proposal in this regard in the state Cabinet soon.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Bose had told that the state government was planning to withdraw the full trade union right of the state government employees which was given by the then Left Front government in 1981 by amending the West Bengal Service Rules (Duties and Obligation) Act. Almost all the state government employees’ bodies, barring the Trinamul Congress-backed United State Government Employees’ Federation (USGEF), are vehemently protesting against this plan.
“I stick to what I said yesterday. The state government employees can form associations, but those should not be trade unions. The state government employees cannot be affiliated to any political party. They are crying for a right which they should not have according to their service rules,” Mr Bose announced.
He also threatened that the state government might take action against the state government employees if they join the industrial strike on February 28 called by all major Central trade unions. The CPI(M)-backed state government employees’ body, the Co-ordination Committee, has decided to join the strike. “According to the West Bengal Government Employees Service Conduct Rule, 1956, joining such a strike is illegal for the state government employees. They have to inform the state finance department before joining a strike. The finance department then forms a committee to consider their application and if the committee approves, then only they can go for strike,” Mr Bose said.

 The West Bengal government's plans to drop a clause in service rules of its employees that gives them full trade union rights have drawn the ire of a majority of workers' organisations.
"If the right to strike is taken away from government employees, all the central trade unions will rally behind them with all solidarity," All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary and Communist Party of India (CPI) MP Gurudas Dasgupta said.
Describing as "unfortunate" state Labour Minister Purnendu Bose's comments that the amendment will be repealed, Dasgupta said the remarks were against the "constitution principles" and the rights upheld by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention.
The minister said Tuesday: "As per their service rules, government employees shouldn't be criticising the government."
The clause introduced as an amendment to the service regulations of the government employees in the 1980s by the then Left Front government was "illegal", he added.
The state service rules do not permit government employees to be part of organisations affiliated to political parties, he said.
According to the Left Front amendment, the 900,000 state government employees were allowed to set up associations and unions for collective bargaining and such bodies did not require any recognition from the government.
They could also resort to protests and organise strikes or demonstrations as part of the collective bargaining.
The Congress-affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress' (INTUC) state president Pradip Bhattacharya termed the move "improper". "The government should hold a meeting with all central trade unions before deciding on any such step."
The opposition Communist Party of India-Marxist's (CPI-M) labour arm Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) was scathing in its criticism.
"This government is totally on the road to fascism. We will not allow it to snatch the rights of the workers. This is a draconian act. We will protest with all our might," said CITU state secretary Kali Ghosh.
But the Indian National Trinamool Trade Union Congress (INTTUC), owing allegiance to the ruling Trinamool Congress, saw nothing wrong with the plans.
"No central trade union can have any comment on this. The state government employees are not permitted to form trade unions for their collective bargaining. As per their service rules, they cannot join any trade union affiliated to any political party. The minister has only reiterated this," said state INTTUC in charge Dola Sen.

Bengal may bar govt staff from taking part in union activities

Romita Datta,

West Bengal proposes to bar its 900,000 government employees from taking part in trade union activities of any nature by reintroducing an antiquated British law under which government employees weren’t allowed to form pressure groups.
The Left parties, which ruled West Bengal for 34 years from 1977, in 1980 amended service regulations to give state government employees “full trade union rights, including the right to strike”.
State government employees were allowed to form associations and unions, and such pressure groups for collective bargaining didn’t require any recognition from the administration, according to a clarification issued by the finance department in September 1981. This implied that state government employees in West Bengal could freely form as many pressure groups as they wanted, whereas in industrial units, such bodies require the recognition of the management to legitimately represent workers.
Purnendu Bose, West Bengal’s labour minister, on Tuesday said at the Writers’ Building, the state secretariat, that the government will place before the state cabinet a proposal to withdraw the rights of its employees to form unions.
The 1980 amendment of service regulations by the erstwhile Left Front government was “illegal”, according to Bose and, hence, will be repealed. “Government employees shouldn’t be criticizing the government,” he said.
West Bengal recently withdrew the rights of the state’s police officials to form pressure groups for collective bargaining.
The Left Front and Congress-backed associations of state government workers criticized the proposal.
“The Constitution of India provides freedom of speech and the right to form associations,” said G. Sanjeeva Reddy, president, Indian National Trade Union Congress (Intuc), the labour arm of the Congress party. “We will challenge it legally.”
Intuc plans to immediately launch a statewide agitation to protest against the proposal, said Shyamal Kumar Mitra, one of its leaders at the Writers’ Building.
There are 57 associations representing state government employees—most of them are affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, which is the labour arm of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The motivation for the move by the Trinamool Congress, which ended the Left Front’s 34-year unbroken rule last year, isn’t immediately clear.
“What is the need for activism if the chief minister (Mamata Banerjee) is willing to sort out our problems through discussion,” said Sanjib Pal, general secretary of the Federation of Secretariat Employees, which is backed by the Trinamool Congress.
Those opposing the move said it betrays the Trinamool Congress’ inability to make inroads into West Bengal government employees.
“The move to disband associations of state government employees is completely unconstitutional,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, general secretary of the All-India Trade Union Congress, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India.
“The Left parties will collectively decide how to politically oppose this move,” added Dasgupta, a lawmaker at the Centre.