India navy moves in as dock workers strike

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Posted by Reuters on January 23, 2000 at 16:02:51:

India navy moves in as dock workers strike

Anshuman Daga
18 Jan 2000

BOMBAY – Almost 100,000 Indian dock workers began an indefinite strike for more pay on Tuesday, prompting the government to send in the navy to help keep ports running and police to protect officials.

Ships were backed up as naval personnel took up key positions in the 11 affected ports to minimise the disruption to trade.

In the eastern port city of Calcutta, police stood on guard as angry workers shouted slogans, waved red flags and obstructed officials from going to their offices.

Port pilots and other officers picked up where the striking workers left off on Tuesday morning, but labour-intensive general cargo was held up.

“About 400 Home Guards and 80 Navy personnel are assisting us,” said A.K. Mago, chairman of the Bombay Port Trust.

Officials said handling of petroleum products was the least affected because it was not a labour-intensive task.

Surface Transport Minister Rajnath Singh said 50 percent of cargo movement had been affected at ports across the country.

A spokesman for Kandla, India’s busiest port, handling 41,000 tonnes of dry cargo and 97,000 tonnes of liquid cargo each day, said staff attendance had fallen sharply, hitting cargo movement.

The dock workers walked out after seven hours of talks with government officials on Monday failed to yield an agreement.

“We have prepared a contingency plan to meet the challenge. The navy has moved in at all ports,” Minister Singh said, adding that the government was still open for talks.

The workers have demanded a doubling in pay while the government is willing to offer a rise of 28 percent.

Unloading and loading of cargo, movement of ships, railway transportation work and handling of ships by flotilla workers had been affected by the strike, the Press Trust of India quoted the All India Port and Dock Workers’ Federation president S R Kulkarni as saying.

India’s southern port of Tuticorin, 575 km (360 miles) south of Madras, continued to discharge coal despite the strike, but most other operations were affected, a top port official said.

Navy personnel had moved in and taken charge of crucial functions at the port, Tuticorin Port Trust chairman S. Machendranathan told Reuters.

Copper concentrate supplies of Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd, which runs a 100,000 tonne-per-annum copper smelter in Tuticorin, were held up at the port.

“We have got one of our vessels stuck... because of the strike and it has only been half discharged. But (smelter) operations are normal as we have enough inventories to carry on for now,” said a senior Sterlite official who did not wish to be named.


“Petroleum oil and lubricants handling is unlikely to be affected because we don’t require much staff for unloading. The port pilots and officers are helping us out,” Sanjay Bhaty, spokesman of the Kandla Port Trust said.

But operations at the southern port of Madras, which handles over 35,000 tonnes of coal a day, were hit.

“We were caught unawares as the workers struck from the third shift last night and there was a bit of intimidation of workers who were yet to leave the port, so we have been left with a backlog of vessels,” a senior port official said.

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