The State-run Kerala Headload Workers’ Welfare Board (Island Committee) has become party to allowing Nokkukooli, a system of paying for notional manual labour, at a private company’s cement terminal at Kochi port.

Sources in Cochin Port Trust refused to comment on the development but the copy of an agreement between trade unions and the cement handling company shows that it is has to pay eight persons a day even if there is no scope for manual labour at the terminal.

A senior official of Kerala Headload Workers’ Welfare Board, however, denied the payment of nokkukooliwhich the Port Trust and Kerala government have constantly fought and claimed victory at various levels.

The official said the company has been making payments to the workers, who have no work at the facility because it is fully automatic. The workers are being paid in the name of a godown meant for distribution of cement in Ernakulam district. He said the company had agreed to pay the minimum wages on days when there was no work just as a company was obliged to pay the minimum wages during a lay-off period.

The official said the godown had not been established but would be set up soon to stock cement that cannot be loaded on to lorries in a day’s work. The demonstration of the system of cement handling showed that no manual labour was needed to unload, pack and load the packs onto lorries for onward traffic. The trade unions objected to the operations since they would be losing jobs which were otherwise theirs. Since a dispute arose between trade unions representing workers in the cement pool of the Port Trust area, the Headload Workers’ Welfare Board intervened. And, an agreement on making payments to eight workers was thrashed out. Following the agreement, the cement terminal and handling facility, established at a cost of over Rs. 100 crore, was allowed to go on stream from March 21.

The condition on which it was allowed to function includes a provision asking the company to pay Rs. 400 per head for eight workers daily plus a levy of Rs. 112 towards the Headload Workers’ Welfare Board. There is a clause that if the labourers do more work than stipulated they will be paid Rs. 145.11 per tonne. The workers have been guaranteed wages for a minimum of 312 days in a year, excluding Sundays.

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