Madras Port Trust Employees Union

Interview with Comrade G.M.Krishnamurthy, General Secretary of the Madras Port Trust Employees Union, Vice president of All India Port and Dock Workers Federation and Secretary of Tamil Nadu State HMS.

Mazdoor Ekta Lehar (MEL): Can you please tell us about your union? What has been the trend of employment in the last 15-20 years?

Comrade G.M.Krishnamurthy : The Madras Port Trust Employees union was started in the year 1942. From that date it was affiliated to Hind Mazdoor Sabha, International Transport Workers Federation and All India Port and Dock Workers Federation. Ten years back, the total number of port and dock workers in all major ports of the country was nearly 1.5 lakh workers. Today in these 11 major ports, the count has come down to 65000. In Chennai also, at one time, we had 13 to 14 thousand workers. Now it has come down to 8000 workers. However the production and earnings in the ports and docks have gone up year after year. This shows the intensification of exploitation of the workers.

MEL : How have the workers in ports and docks been affected by the program of globalization through liberalization and privatization launched 20 years ago?

G.M.K. : As far as port and docks are concerned, job opportunities have multiplied. But as a consequence of privatization and liberalization, most of the work is now outsourced to private companies or contractors. These private companies and contractors do not provide job security for the vast number of workers working under them. The costs, such as equipments and infrastructures were not compromised, but these private capitalist lowered the wages of workers as the way to make maximum profits from their operations. Hence, they exploit the workers to the core. They do not provide them fair wages. Very few of the workers are kept as permanent workers. Most of the workers are treated as trainees or as casuals with very low wages. Contract workers do not get any PF, ESI, medical, insurance, pensions, gratuity and other benefits. Workers have to slog out for long hours over and above the legally permitted hours for their nature of work. They are not paid any overtime payments for the additional work they put in. At best, they are given compensatory off to substitute for the additional work. Capitalists do not provide any safety measures and precautions for the workers under them. This leads to many serious accidents. In case of any accident, victims do not get any compensation or support from their capitalists. They are thrown out to look after themselves.

Similarly when these private capitalists do not consider the venture to be profitable, they close down the company and leave. They do not care for the workers who have made all the profits for them till that date. For example, we are fighting against PSA SICAL, a MNC in Tuticorin port which intends to close down without committing any compensation for workers.

As far as wages are concerned, unions have fought and managed to get some increments and pension benefits for the workers in the organized sectors. That may not be adequate to compensate them for the all round steep price raises that have taken place in the recent years. However condition of the workers in the unorganized MNCs and contractors is terrible. They do not even get the minimum wages.

MEL: Have the private capitalists introduced new technology to improve productivity and efficiency?

G.M.K: Yes, they are bringing ultra modern equipment to improve productivity and also to reduce manpower, resulting in job losses.

MEL : What is the response of the government to plight of the workers?

G.M.K: Workers and Trade Unions have been fighting for better wages and rights of the workers in all these private companies. The labour department is not keen to take any action against the capitalists. They collude with these capitalists in their attacks on the livelihood of our workers. For e.g., in the case of FedEx Express Services India Pvt., we have taken it up with the concerned Labour Department and we had 20 sittings. But the company representative did not even turn up once for these hearings. We took it up with the Deputy Commissioner of Labour. In the last 1 month, we have had 3 sittings with the Deputy Commissioner of Labour, but again no one turned up from the company's management even once. Fact is government authorities are mute witness to the attacks on our workers and they are unable to do anything counter to it. This shows that there is no legal and law enforcing system in defense of our workers. There is very urgent need to revamp our labour legislations in support of the workers' rights. Given the current set of legislations, inaction on the part of authorities provides ample proof that government is actually working in the interests of the capitalists and against the toiling workers.

Thus I can state very categorically, that the program of globalization through liberalization and privatization that is being implemented by the government for the last 20 years has brought great disasters for our workers. It has led to further deterioration of their working and living conditions and overall living standards. At the same time big capitalists, have earned more wealth by exploiting our workers.

Trend in the last 5 years very clearly shows the increasing work load on the workers consequent of the increasing tonnage and reduction in the headcount of the workers, although part of the reduction in head count of port workers is taken over by outsourcing and contract workers.


 Work load at Chennai Port with 2005-06 as base


Tonnage Lakhs

# of Emp*

Tons / Emp

Work load %

Emp Reduction %

































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