Hyderabad: Worker unions of the Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Limited (RINL), also known as Visakhapatnam Steel Plant, on Thursday issued a notice to the company’s management, stating they would go on an indefinite strike after March 25, in protest against the Centre’s decision to privatise the steel plant. The unions also demanded repeal of the approval accorded on January 27 by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) for 100 per cent strategic sale of the RINL and scrapping of the inter-ministerial group constituted to study the strategic sale.
Visakha Ukku Parirakshana Porata Samithi (struggle committee to protect the Visakhapatnam Steel Plant), a joint action committee of all trade unions, served the notice to chairman and managing director of RINL P K Rath, in accordance with the provisions contained in Sub-section (1) of Section 22 of the Industrial Dispute Act, 1947. The JAC said as per the rules, they were giving a notice of 14 days to resolve their issues. “We propose to call a strike on or after March 25, 2021 for the reasons mentioned in the notice,” the JAC said.
The trade unions also demanded scrapping of the memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed with South Korean steel major POSCO on October 23, 2019, for floating a joint venture for the construction of an integrated steel plant on RINL lands. They asked the RINL management to suspend the recently concluded memorandum of understanding with National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC) India Ltd for redevelopment and monetisation of land parcels of the steel plant located at Maddilapalem in Visakhapatnam.
When contacted, RINL official spokesperson R P Sharma said the management has just received the notice adding that it would try to convince the employees to withdraw their strike call. “The management will call the trade union leaders for talks shortly for negotiations. After all, operation of the steel plant is a question of bread and butter for the employees. They cannot stall the production,” Sharma said.
They also demanded that all the left-out R-Card (rehabilitation card) holders (those who had given away their lands in 1980s in lieu of the promised jobs in the steel plant) be given permanent employment.
The JAC of trade unions, who stepped up their agitation against Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s categorical announcement in the Lok Sabha on Monday that the Centre would go ahead with 100 per cent disinvestment in the RINL, are planning to follow the strategy of farmers protesting on Delhi borders, demanding repeal of controversial farm legislations.
They are planning to invite farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait and others to a rally in Visakhapatnam on March 28 to address the steel plant workers. “We are studying their model of agitation and if possible, we shall adopt their strategy to wage a long-drawn battle to prevent privatisation of the steel plant,” trade union leader J Ayodhya Ramu said.
The main reason for the disinvestment, according to the RINL management, was that the steel plant had been consistently making losses over a period of time. In 2017-18, it suffered a loss of ₹1,369 crore. Though it could recover briefly by making a net profit of ₹97 crore in 2018-19, it plunged into huge losses to the extent of ₹3,910 crore in 2019-20.
Meanwhile, support has been pouring in from various quarters to the agitating workers of Visakhapatnam Steel Plant. Popular Telugu film star and former Union minister Chiranjeevi expressed his solidarity with the steel plant workers.
“Visakha steel plant is a symbol of numerous sacrifices. It is the right of the Andhra people and their self-respect. Let’s rise above parties and regions. With a steely resolve, let’s save Visakha steel plant,” Chiranjeevi tweeted late on Tuesday, adding that it was intolerable to declare that the plant was being privatised because it was in losses while all these years it had been deprived of captive mines.
Telangana Rashtra Samithi working president K T Rama Rao, too, announced that he would stand by the people of Visakhapatnam in their fight against privatisation of the VSP. “If necessary, with permission of chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao, we will visit Visakhapatnam to extend our support,” he said.