Deadlock after sub-contractor refuses demand to raise number of union workers at Cheranalloor casting site

With precisely 1,000 days left for Kochi Metro to be commissioned, interference by regional construction unions brought the metro’s piling works to a standstill at Kaloor on Tuesday.

Early in the day, union workers reportedly obstructed works at the casting site in Cheranalloor. With materials for piling not arriving from the site, the sub-contractor had to stop piling at Kaloor.

Though trade union leaders say that they are open to the work resuming on Wednesday, sources associated with metro expressed annoyance at constant obstruction of work by trade unions. “Works will resume only after a permanent solution is found, since we will not brook undue interference from unions,” they said.

Speaking to The Hindu, Minister for Transport Aryadan Mohammed said that he had taken up the issue with CITU’s State general secretary Elamaram Karim. “He has promised all help to end the impasse.”

The deadlock arose after the sub-contractor refused to yield to the demand to raise the number of union workers from 10 to 22 at the casting site.

With each worker being paid over Rs.700 for a 12-hour shift this would set a bad precedent and also increase the project cost, sources said. Moreover, work sites have sufficient number of skilled workers trained by contracting firms and modern machinery is in place to do most of the work.

“We do not need excess workers since they do not have much work to do. Moreover, they set a bad example for trained workers who are willing to put in hard work,” they said.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) Principal Advisor E. Sreedharan had on a recent visit, objected to too many workers being posted at piling and casting sites, on seeing many of them standing idle.

Metro officials expressed shock at frequent interruptions in the work because of problems posed by local-level construction and headload workers’ unions. “We are fed up with too many rounds of talks with union leaders. There is no tangible increase in output despite union workers being posted at worksites.”

Meanwhile, Kochi Metro Rail Limited’s (KMRL) managing director Elias George reminded that Kochi Metro is Kerala’s flagship infrastructure project and the entire State is looking forward to the timely unveiling of a world-class metro system. “While we will uphold workers’ rights, we are eager to ensure that the work is not disrupted on account of any labour dispute. The additional costs incurring on the project on account of any kind of delay/cost overrun will have to be borne by the State government,” he said.

Labour issues, if any, can be settled through dialogue and discussion, but the work should be allowed to go on without any interruption, he said. 

The district secretary of the construction workers’ union affiliated to the CITU, K.V. Manoj said that work at the casting site was stopped since the sub-contractor was unwilling to employ more union members. The regional labour commissioner has promised to convene a meeting on September 22 to discuss the issue.

The DMRC is peeved at frequent disruptions to work since each day’s delay in commissioning the project (whose deadline is March 2016) will increase the project cost by over Rs.50 lakh. Meanwhile, the State government allotted Rs. 234 crore more for the project on Tuesday.

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