Labour strike looms at Neyveli Lignite over divestment

Chennai, June 21 (IANS) Workers unions at the lignite mining-cum-power generating company Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd (NLC) Friday threatened to go on strike opposing the five percent divestment decision of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA).

"We will give a strike notice next week against the disinvestment decision. Our leader and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has categorically opposed the move to divest five percent in NLC," R. Chinnasamy, state secretary of the AIADMK's labour wing and a legislator, told IANS.

The CCEA approved a five percent divestment in NCL to garner around Rs.466 crore. The Department of Disinvestment (DoD) had moved the cabinet seeking to sell over 7.8 crore shares, or five per cent, through an offer for sale (OFS) route in the Tamil Nadu-based miner.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa had earlier written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing the stake sale.

In her letter, Jayalalithaa had suggested that the central government can buy back the shares held by public and go for delisting or amend the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Rules, 1957 to exempt NLC as a special case from the 10 percent minimum public holding stipulation.

According to her, any proposal to disinvest even a small portion of the share-holding will lead to considerable labour unrest and any disruption of power supply from NLC will affect Tamil Nadu which is already suffering from acute power shortage.

"On Sunday all the worker unions would meet and decide the future course of action. Our union will give a strike notice. The chief minister supports our cause," said R. Udayakumar, secretary, Anna Workers and Staff Union, affiliated to AIADMK.

He said divestment in favour of workers may not be successful as they may not be in a position to afford the scrip.

Even the DMK party has opposed divestment of stakes in NLC.

Earlier two attempts (in 2002 and 2006) to divest NLC shares had failed due to opposition from the state government.

Speaking to IANS, S. Rajavannian, general secretary, Labour Progressive Front, Neyveli Unit affiliated to DMK, said: "We are opposed to the divestment. However, we have to fight the government's decision bringing in the unions representing the officers and engineers. If we do not do that there will be a rift within the workers union and the goal will be defeated."

According to Rajavannian, the government is looking at raising just Rs.466 crore by divestment whereas the dividend outgo for NLC last fiscal alone will be around Rs.500 crore.

The unions feel the government is keen to bring in foreign investors and nothing else.

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