Indian labor authorities are trying to avert a threatened nationwide strike by unionized dockworkers that would impact supply chains as the Narendra Modi government vigorously works to stimulate economic growth.
The country’s chief labor commissioner is expected to meet with union representatives in New Delhi early next week in the hope of reaching a settlement, local port sources told JOC.com.
The call for an indefinite industrial action beginning April 19 has been given by a consortium of labor groups representing dockworkers employed at major, or public, ports to press for changes in the Major Port Authorities Bill 2016 seeking a restructuring of the country’s port administrative system.
The dockworker unions have already served an official strike notice to respective port authorities and the Ministry of Shipping, highlighting their concerns and charter of demands.
Its purpose is, “To conclude a settlement between the management of Indian ports and six federations of port and dockworkers with the participation of the Ministry of Shipping specifying protection of all existing and future benefits of employees, including protection of job security and also pensionary benefits of retired employees,” the notice stated.
The labor unions fear the reform program would lead to privatization of port activities in a phased manner and in turn, a loss of jobs and social security for the workers.
The new port legislation, which already has been cleared by the union cabinet, broadly aims to replace port management under boards of trustees with independent boards that will have the power to fix tariffs and make major investments.
“With a view to promoting the expansion of port infrastructure and facilitate trade and commerce, the proposed bill aims at decentralizing decision-making and to infuse professionalism in governance of ports,” the government said in a previous statement.
India has 12 major publicly-owned ports that together account for roughly 70 percent of the country’s total container trade. These ports are in the process of a massive “makeover” to shore up productivity and efficiency in the wake of growing competition from private rivals such as Adani Ports’ Mundra, which is close to doubling capacity and could pose a major threat to growth of Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, the biggest public container handler.
As part of its Sagar Mala port-led development program, the government has lined up an array of public-private partnership projects for construction of new berths, port-related rail projects, dredging, equipment upgrades, mechanization, and moving more transactions online at major ports.
Major ports’ fiscal year 2016 to 2017 container throughput increased 3 percent year-over-year to 8.45 million twenty-foot-equivalent units, according to the newest provisional port data compiled by JOC.com. In the same period, total traffic was up nearly 7 percent to 647.6 million tonnes (714 million tons) from 606.5 million tonnes previously.