Even while the Neyveli Lignite Corporation contract workmen's strike entered the 22nd day on Sunday, one of the recognised trade unions, Labour Progressive Front (LPF) affiliated to the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, signed an agreement with the NLC Contractors' Association in Chennai.

General secretary of the LPF R. Gopalan told The Hindu that it was over three weeks since the contract workmen went on strike and they could not afford to prolong the strike any further.

Hence, in the bipartite talks held between the LPF leaders and the office-bearers of the NLC Contractors' Association an agreement was reached for a period of five years as follows.

The workmen would get a wage hike of Rs. 1,040 a month (at the rate of Rs. 40 a day) and three months' arrears. They would be entitled to a washing allowance of Rs. 25 a day, and an ex gratia of Rs. 500 to be paid over and above the minimum of 8.33 per cent bonus.

They would get the paid holiday benefit for nine days (even if they do not turn up for work) and if they work on those days they would get double wages. They would be given a rain coat allowance of Rs. 300 for a four-year period.

Mr. Gopalan further said that the management would absorb 5,000 workers into the NLC Indcoserve, based on seniority, by December 2010. It also agreed to set up a an EPF Trust in Neyveli itself instead of remitting the EPF accounts in the Regional Office of the Provident Fund Commissioner at Tiruchi.

Rejection of the agreement

Mr. Gopalan said that the LPF had instructed its workers to resume work from the second shift on Sunday. However, another recognised union – Pattali Thozhir Sangam (PTS) – that had not participated in the talks, rejected the agreement as inadequate. Now the PTS has joined force with five other trade unions to intensify the agitation through the Joint Action Council.

The JAC leaders stated that the LPF had only handful of followers and moreover the overnight stay of Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi (on Saturday night) at Chidambaram should have prompted the LPF leaders to put up a show that they could deliver goods.

All India Trade Union Congress leader M. Sekar said that his union that commanded a majority support from the 13,000-strong workmen had turned down the “agreement.” It was now closing ranks with other trade unions to intensify the struggle, he added.

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