Report by Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) correspondent
“Support the just struggles of Electricity and Bank Workers! This was the theme of the Zoom meeting organized by AIFAP on 13th November 2022. More than 180 activists from all over India participated. Bank workers under the banner of All India Bank Employees Association had given a call for all India strike on 19 November to protest against anti-worker and anti-union actions of the bank managements. Electricity workers and engineers under the leadership of National Coordination committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) have been opposing the pro-corporate, anti-worker and anti-consumer Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022. NCCOEEE has planned a rally of electricity employees and engineers from all over the country on 23 November against the Bill. The AIFAP meeting was organized to inform workers of other sectors about the struggle of bank and electricity workers and seek the support of other sectors.
Com Ashok Kumar, Jt. Secretary, KEC (Kamgar Ekta Committee) welcomed the speakers and the participants. He talked about the importance of supporting the struggles of the workers of various sectors in the spirit, “An Attack on One is an Attack on All!” He encouraged the participants to participate in the discussions after the speeches of the invited speakers.
Shri Devidas Tuljapurkar, AIBEA (All India Bank Employees Association) and Maharashtra Bank Workers (M), Shri Shailendra Dubey, Chairperson, NCCOEEE (National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers) and Shri Girish, Joint Secretary, KEC were the invited speakers. See the boxes for the highlights of their speeches.
Sushri Lalita Joshi of AIBEA further elaborated on reasons which forced bank workers to give the call for strike.
Shri D S Arora, General Secretary, All india Station Masters Association (AISMA), Shri K N Satyanarayana, HPCL Refinery Employees Union, Visakhapatnam, Sushri Poonam, Purogami Mahila Sangathan, Shri Janm Jay Kumar, Divisional Secretary, Western Railway, All India Guards Council (AIGC), Shri Kishor Nair, General Secretary, Bharat Petroleum Technical and Non-Technical Employees Association Mumbai Refinery and Shri Chetan Parvatiya, All India Railway Trackmaintainers Union, Western Railway extended their support to the just struggle of bank and electricity workers.
A large number of participants took part in the discussions. They unanimously thanked the AIFAP for organising the meeting, as well as its work since July 2021. It had brought the federations, unions and other organisations of different political affiliations and ideologies from all over the country and provided the much-needed platform to respectfully listen to each other and to gain knowledge about other sectors. AIFAP was playing a significant role towards building the unity of the working class.
In his concluding remarks, Com Ashok Kumar thanked the speakers and participants and exhorted them to support the struggles of the workers of all sectors as well as to make the people at large conscious about the importance of supporting them.
Highlights of the speech by Com. Devidas Tuljapurkar
I would like to give some background about our 19 November strike.
- The Sonali Bank of Bangladesh has three branches in India. Our union’s General Secretary worked in the Calcutta branch. The Bank management dismissed him. They said they are taking orders from headquarters; they are not ready to comply with labour laws.
- In the Standard Chartered Bank the Chennai employees formed a union under the Indian Trade Union Act 1926. The management removed them from service.
- The Citibank has sold its retail portfolio to Axis Bank and wants to remove retail employees. The HR department expressed helplessness about these dismissals.
- From the MUFG Bank of Tokyo, eight employees were dismissed suddenly without notice.
- The Catholic Syrian Bank (CSB) was a member of the IBA at 11th Bipartite Settlement (BPS) negotiation. However, 11th BPS, which was implemented last year for all bank workers, has not been implemented in the CSB. Pension has been substituted by a one-time settlement and the employees have no social security.
- From the Federal Bank a young comrade was wrongly accused and dismissed. He is the Deputy General Secretary of the union. Other workers with similar charges were not dismissed.
- From the Canara Bank, BOB (Bank of Baroda) and BOM (Bank of Maharashtra), safai karmacharis working on part-time have been outsourced. We agitated against this. The Bank management claimed that this is as per RBI rules, but we pointed out that we have rejected the outsourcing policy in 11 BPS. Despite this, there is backdoor policy of outsourcing, which we do not approve.
- In BOI (Bank of India), retired employees who are participating in negotiations on an honorary basis have been denied the right to representation and union offices have been attacked.
- In CBI (Central Bank of India) and BOM the bank managements implemented the administrative transfer policy. We asserted that 8 BPS includes the clause that employees can be deployed only within a 100 km radius. Today, there is a shortage rather than an excess of workers. But the management says that transfer is their birth right.
- In the CBI, the transfer policy was disputed at tribunals, and a petition was filed in the Kerala HC (High Court) petition. The Kerala HC ruled that transfer is ultra vires (beyond one’s legal power or authority). But the bank management is ready to accept HC direction only in the state of Kerala. Now the managements have said that field offices should not implement any directive of tribunals!
- The SBI (State Bank of India) has a new subsidiary through which people will employed. Now, there will be no recruitment in SBI but only contractual employment through the subsidiary.
Bank employees have been fighting for the last 30 years against the NEP (New Economic Policy) and privatization. Bank employees have always raised their voice against wrong government policies. There is an effort now to de-unionise and suppress employees.
The AIBEA has given the call for strike on 19 Nov against the above attacks on rights of workers and unions to strike. The UFBU (United Federation of Bank Unions) has supported it but are not participating in the strike. At the next stage, UFBU will also participate as bipartisan was a redeeming feature in banking, but now there is ad-hocism, and decisions are made on whims and fancies.
Bank authorities are disrespecting labour machinery. Many management representatives did not come for the meeting with IBA. They do not want employees and unions in banking. We will persevere and fight and continue to oppose wrong policies and continue the fight against privatization.
The next negotiations are on 16 Nov, called by the Chief Labour Commissioner. The main demand is regarding outsourcing. The other main demand is related to transfers. The management is trying to destroy the confidence of employees in unions. Strike is inevitable but we are trying to negotiate and want bipartisanism.
(Note: After the final conciliation meeting on 18 November, the AIBEA agreed to defer the strike.)
Highlights of the speech by Shri Shailendra Dubey
The EAB (Electricity Amendment Bill) 2022 (EAB) was brought in parliament in an undemocratic manner. It was not even on the agenda of parliament session! On 6 August, they brought out a supplementary agenda that declared that EAB will be introduced in parliament on 8 August. On 8 August, another supplement declared that voting and passing will also be done same day!
We had anticipated this. That is why we served a notice of lightning strike in more than 20 states if the Bill is introduced or passed.
The opposition parties opposed the EAB. Workers boycotted work and organised demonstrations. This added a lot of pressure and ultimately, the Bill was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy.
We wrote to the Standing Committee to consider stakeholders’ views. The government had given a written assurance to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha that EAB will not be passed, but this has been violated. The Bill was introduced in parliament on 8 August without consulting farmers or any other stakeholders. The Standing Committee should invite views of all stakeholders. The strongest stakeholders are power workers and consumers. Till now, no meeting has been organised with us.
However, there is news that EAB will be placed in the parliament in its winter session and a meeting will be held before that. No meeting of the Standing Committee has been held till now as per my knowledge. They may be under pressure from the central government.
NCCOEEE has decided that all electricity workers and unions across the country will organize a big rally in Ram Leela Maidan, Delhi. We have held several conventions. Today I am in Dehradun for a convention. The last convention is in Mumbai on 16 November. The Delhi rally will be from Ram Leela Maidan to Jantar Mantar. We are expecting 50,000 to 1,00,000 workers. There, we will resolve that if the government takes any action without consulting stakeholders, electricity workers will have no choice but to strike and boycott work.
The Electricity Act 2003 has a provision that more than one company can work in distribution but they have to build their own network. The EAB says that own network is not necessary, they can use the existing government network. So there is no level-playing field. The highest expenditure is on building the network.
The government is deceiving us by saying that privatization will give consumers a choice like SIM choice for mobiles. Mobile and electricity networks are different. Electricity has a wired network while it is wireless for mobile service. Lakhs of crores are required to build and maintain wired electricity networks. Further, unlike mobiles, electricity rates are not the same for all. Various governments cutting across party lines give subsidies to farmers. Cross-subsidies partially cover the losses incurred due to supply of subsidized electricity. So electricity distribution cannot be compared with mobile service.
Every day the number of electricity consumers is increasing, because of which the electricity load increases. So capacity of substations has to be increased and sometimes more substations have to be built. Who will pay for all this? The government company will. The private company will pay only very low wheeling charges for using the infrastructure. So there is no level-playing field.
Private companies will cherry-pick profitable areas. The government says that privatization will lead to competition. But there is no competition in loss-making areas. There is competition only in profit-making areas. We are being misled. Private companies will come only in profitable areas.
The universal power supply obligation of supplying electricity to consumers (whether loss-making or profit-making) will be applicable only to government discoms (electricity distribution companies). Private companies will use our network to supply electricity to profitable areas and take away our profit-making consumers. Government discoms will become loss-making companies.
The Prime Minister himself mentioned that a lot of subsidy money has not been paid by government to discoms. If this money is paid, discoms will pay their arrears to gencos and also have surplus. The government has purposely kept discoms in this distressed economic condition in order to malign them and push privatization.
The Bill also says that the private company that takes license need not work itself. This means that the private company can give distribution contract to a franchisee.
The story of BSNL is being repeated in the electricity sector. More than 1 lakh crore usage charges from Airtel and Vodafone are due to BSNL. This will be repeated in power sector.
The EAB gives choice to the suppliers, not to consumers. The same experiment has been going on in Mumbai. Tata Power has taken permission to use Adani’s network in an area in Mumbai. Only 1500 consumers switched to Tata Power because of somewhat cheaper rates (5-10 paise). Adani made Tata pay usage charges, and Tata transferred these charges to consumers’ bills. Consumers are frustrated now and have filed complaints. This experiment of multiple distributors has failed in Mumbai but still the government wants to implement it across the country.
The privatization process has been speeded up in Union Territories like Chandigarh and Puducherry. Electricity distribution has already been privatized from 1 April 2022 in Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu and it has been handed over to Torrent.
Dadra Nagar Haveli has only 3.2% losses. So it is false that only loss-making sector will be privatized. Chandigarh Department makes high profits and has assets of Rs. 27,000 crores but it has been sold to a Kolkata company for just Rs. 871 crore. This is similar to sell off at a throw away price like is was done with BALCO privatisation.
Puducherry Department also earns profits. Puducherry port is already with Adani; it is rumored that Adani will take over electricity too. There are 4-5 private companies in the power sector. They decide beforehand who will operate where. What is going on is privatisation of profits and nationalization of losses.
This EAB will by default push government discoms into loss. In whose interest is this Bill? We have given the slogan “Save Power Sector – Save India!”. With this slogan, we will take out a rally in Delhi. Do not calculate our assets only based on price. Electricity workers have sacrificed their lives for these assets. This is the wealth of the people of India. Inquilab Zindabad!
Highlights of the speech by Shri Girish, Joint Secretary, KEC
One after other workers are being attacked. They are fighting back, but the mainstream media that are in the hands of the big capitalists do not report them. In this matter AIFAP has developed its website which is helping to make workers of one sector learn about struggles of others and is contributing to building working class unity and solidarity. The website is very active with nearly 1.5 lakh visitors.
In 1991-92, the Manmohan Singh-Narsimha Rao government of the Congress implemented the LPG (Globalisation through Liberalisation and Privatisation) policy. Since then, they have strongly maligned the public sector and public sector workers in order to win the support of common people for privatization. They did two things. They allowed the entry of private companies into public sectors, such as in the case of BSNL. Further, they stopped filling vacant positions. For example, there are thousands of vacant posts in the Maharashtra electricity sector. As a result existing employees are overworked and the service quality deteriorates. Consumers end up blaming the workers.
They have also not invested in public sector infrastructure. This has happened in the case of SBI and BSNL.
If we want to save public sector, it is necessary to get support from common people. We have to tell the people that public sector has been weakened because of government policies and they should not get deceived by capitalist propaganda. We have to tell them that please support us so that we can ensure that the public sector is saved and continues to render service to the people.
We know that Maharashtra Bank workers have gone among the people in various places. Workers of the RINL steel plant in Vishakhapatnam mobilized the people of their city and due to their opposition, they have not been able to privatise it so far.
Wherever we work in the country, KEC is making an effort to inform the common people about the truth about public sector industries and explain the need to save them. The slogan of AIFAP – An Attack on One is an Attack on All! – is important and becoming very popular.
We have also organised physical and online several meetings in support of farmers’ struggle to unite workers and peasants.