New wage scheme in coir sector mooted

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Nov. 24. The sub-committee, appointed by the ruling United Democratic Front (UDF) to study problems in the coir sector and recommend remedial measures, has suggested the replacement of minimum wages with `agreed wages', drastic downsizing of the Directorate of Coir, Coirfed and Coir Corporation and closure of non-profitable coir product showrooms.

Releasing the sub-committee report at a news conference here today, the sub-committee convener, A. V. Thamarakshan, said majority of coir cooperatives and their apex body, Coirfed, had fallen into serious financial crisis on account of the insincerity, corruption and wasteful expenditure of cooperators and labour union leaders in the coir sector.

The panel, he said, saw no meaning in persisting with minimum wages, as the existing wages were either not being paid or were not practical. The panel was of the view that an `agreed wage' structure should be evolved in consultation with all parties concerned.

In order to bring down the expenditure of Coirfed, surplus staff should be offered VRS, services of temporary employees terminated and closure of godowns taken on rent.

The Kerala State Coir Corporation and Foam Mattings India had both failed in protecting the interests of coir cooperatives and smallscale producers.

Although they were set up to find new export markets for coir products, they had not succeeded in securing one per cent of the total quantity of coir and coir products exported from Kerala. This was mainly on account of the absence of professional management, irresponsibility and corruption of those at the helm and the political patronage they received from time to time. The two public sector units should be immediately merged.

The Directorate of Coir had 283 employees. The Coir Director himself had told the panel that the directorate could make do with just 25 per cent of the existing staff. Since husk procurement had been done away with, it should be possible to close down project offices and re-deploy the surplus staff.

Although the State produced about 550 crore coconuts annually, hardly 25 per cent of this was being used by the coir industry. The industry in the State mostly depended on husk from Tamil Nadu.

The coir industry can survive only if the Government drew up a scheme to ensure maximum utilisation of husk produced in the State. Towards this end, more defibring units should be set up both in the public and private sector.

Such units should be given free power for five years besides the margin money and subsidy available now. In order to ensure availability of raw husk, the cooperatives should be directed to procure raw nuts instead of copra.

The panel also mooted the formation of 15 primary cooperatives in the coir sector so as to bring in the 9,618 smallscale producers into their ambit. A consortium with professional management should be established.