Winds of change: Kerala CPI-M’s investor-friendly labour talk (News Analysis)

April 30th, 2008 - 1:07 pm ICT by admin  

By Sanu George
Thiruvananthapuram, April 30 (IANS) Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), known for its extremely labour-friendly policies, has now spoken in favour of paying wages to only those who actually work - a move welcomed by investors. CPI-M state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan shocked labour unions when he called for an immediate end to the labour unions’ practice of levying ‘nokku kooli’ on investors/builders.

‘Nokku kooli’ is an unofficial labour norm that has existed in Kerala for decades - under which wages are paid to trade union activists for allowing investors/builders to download material using either machines or their own labour. This amount is charged by labour unions as they feel they have lost their work, and therefore income, to machines.

“Wages should be paid only for those who work and no one has the right to demand nokku kooli. We cannot support injustice in the name of protecting labour rights,” Vijayan said here last week at a seminar titled “Kerala - Past, Present and Future”.

A classic example of nokku kooli charged by trade unions is Rs.200 for every load of ready mix concrete that arrives in construction sites daily.

“In Kochi alone, trade unions get Rs.20,000 every day for no work. They say that with the arrival of these ready mix machines, they have lost work - manually unloading cement and other materials - for which they would have got money,” said a contractor, who did not wish to be identified.

Another example of such “extortion” is that trade unions are paid Rs.15 for every truckload of mud used to fill up land.

Work is under way at the Vallarpadom container trans-shipment terminal in Kochi and trade unions get close to Rs.15,000 even though trucks automatically unload the mud.

Opposition leader Oommen Chandy has welcomed the proposed move by the CPI-M, but added that it should have been initiated a long time ago.

“This should have dawned on them (CPI-M) a decade ago as such unhealthy practices have caused a huge loss to investment-starved Kerala,” Chandy told IANS.

Much of the credit for creating an investor-friendly environment in Kerala is given to A.K. Antony because as chief minister in 2003, he floated a bill to implement laws that restricted the exorbitant rates charged by labour unions to load and unload materials and goods.

“When the bill was passed in the assembly, the then leader of opposition, V.S. Achuthanandan, walked out of the assembly. Today, as chief minister, he is yet to react to Vijayan’s statement,” a businessman said on condition of anonymity.

But M.M. Lawerence, state general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), said guidelines had been in existence for long against collecting nokku kooli.

“There are thousands of trade union workers in the state and this might have taken place only at some places. We don’t encourage such practices,” Lawerence maintained.

Said a builder: “We are watching if what has been said (by Vijayan) will be put into practice. We have done projects practically in every state in the country but nowhere have we encountered trade union leaders coming for discussions to sort out wages for no work as nokku kooli in Kerala.”

The issue has become a talking point in industry and among politicians, and all eyes are on how state Labour Minister P.K. Gurudasan, a veteran trade union leader, tackles the matter.

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