Central trade unions have devised a two-pronged strategy to counter the Centre’s move to divest 5 per cent shares of the Neyveli Lignite Corporation and to vacate the interim stay on the strike clamped by the Madras High Court.

About 27,000 employees of the NLC, including contract workmen, have gone on an indefinite strike from Wednesday night. To prevail upon the Centre to give up the stake sale, the Central trade unions, numbering nine, have decided to launch a State-wide agitation on July 9.

The trade unions -- HMS, CITU, AITUC, LPF, ATP, INTUC, BMS, AICCTU and AIUTC -- have endorsed the decision. State general secretary of the Labour Progressive Federation M. Shanmugam told The Hindu that “it is beyond comprehension of the trade unions and the general public as to why the Centre should insist upon the NLC to hive off 5 per cent of shares on the pretext of complying with the guidelines of the Securities Exchange Board of India.”

Already 6.44 per cent shares of the NLC were in the public domain and if the SEBI stipulations were to be met only a meagre 3.66 per cent of shares should be on offer. The trade unions were confounded by the Centre’s adamancy in selling off such a small number of NLC shares.

Such an attitude on the part of the Centre had not only caused industrial unrest in the NLC but also posed imminent threat of power crisis in the southern region. Mr. Shanmugam noted that even on the very first day of the indefinite strike the power generation in the NLC had dropped to a noticeable level and if the Centre persisted with its stiff attitude it would cause industrial unrest and lead to power crisis in the southern region.

He also pointed out that the Central trade unions were baffled by the Madras High Court’s injunction on the strike. He observed that after having exhausted all sorts of agitation, the trade unions would finally resort to strike.

Legal measure

But the High Court had ordered an interim injunction against the strike. The ends of justice would have been met had the court instructed the NLC or the Centre to amicably settle the issue through talks, he said.

Mr. Shanmugam hinted that the Central trade unions were contemplating appropriate legal measures to get the injunction vacated. The trade unions too had made an appeal to the NLC officials and engineers, who are attending duty, to extend support to the trade unions “to safeguard the public sector characteristics of the NLC.”

“The officials and engineers should not yield to any threat or pressure from any quarters meant to alienate them from the striking employees. Only when the employees, engineers and officers put up a united fight their cause would be served as in the past,” Mr. Shanmugam said.

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