Labour unrest poses threat to container terminal near Kochi

Labour unrest poses threat to container terminal near Kochi

Kochi: Labour unrest that has often been attributed to lack of investment in Kerala is posing a threat to the state’s most ambitious maritime business project—the proposed Rs3,000 crore international container transhipment terminal at Vallarpadam, off Kochi.

DP World, the holding company of India Gateway Terminals Ltd (IGTL) that is to construct the terminal, has written to Cochin Port Trust (CoPT) that “frequent strikes and uncertain business conditions are big threats" to the viability of the proposed terminal. This has delayed awarding of civil works for the project, it added.

It said that about one dozen days of work lost during the past 20 months had led the operations into “uncertain profitability". IGTL officials were, however, unavailable for comment.

N. Ramachandran, CoPT chairman, confirmed receipt of the letter but said there was not much cause for concern since the port has interfered in the matter and is taking steps to establish a ‘peaceful’ labour atmosphere. The matter has been taken up with V.S. Achuthanandan, chief minister of Kerala, and state’s minister for labour, P.K. Gurudasan, and minister for industries, Elamaram Kareem, who have assured him of all support, he said.

The government has promised to take up the issue of frequent strikes and disruptions in business at the Rajiv Gandhi container terminal, run by IGTL as a precursor to its setting up the new terminal.

Ramachandran said that work for the rail and road connectivity to the proposed terminal has begun and, in all likelihood, IGTL will start work on the new terminal sometime next month. He said the port management had over the last two years taken several steps to ensure that there was no strike or labour unrest.

“A lot of cleaning-up operations had been undertaken and port management has succeeded in putting an end to several illegal practices like forcible collection of money, which had been prevalent for years," he said.

“However, there are still a few disgruntled elements causing unrest that has led to slightly overblown concern about the future of the new terminal project," he said.

The latest provocation that led to a day’s strike at the terminal was the demand for notional employment. Until recently, containers lifted and placed on rail wagon platforms had to be secured with a latch. Six employees were engaged for this. But with the new system, the containers were clicked to a slot which did away with the latch system. Workers engaged in the latch work demanded continuance of wages and with the support of some people went on strike, causing concern for the DP World authorities.

Since most of the workforce had actively participated in the clean-up operations and helped improve the efficiency on the port, he said, discussions were being held with them to ensure the smooth implementation of the new terminal project.

Since forces outside the port, which he refused to elaborate on, were behind the disruptions, including illegal collection of money from vehicles and port users, they had to seek the government’s help.

The activities on the port over the past two years have been the best examples to help Kerala shed its image of an ‘investor-unfriendly’ state.

The authorities will ensure that the atmosphere on the port is conducive to ensuring smooth implementation of the project, Ramachandran said.