Valuable cargoes such as parts for the telecom and automobile industries are lying uncleared at the Chennai airport due to an indefinite strike by the temporary cargo handling workers belonging to a private company.

If the strike continues, the problem could precipitate as the ICEGATE (Indian Customs EDI Gateway) will be shut down from January 11, 1800 hrs to January 13, 0900 hrs.

The shut down of the ICEGATE system, a portal through which documents for import and export cargo clearance is filed, will be followed by the Pongal holidays next week.

“We are heading for major trouble next week, if the strike continues,” said an official of a large logistics company.

“With most of the companies working on just-in-time inventory, such a disruption badly affects their production schedule,” he said. Workers of Bhadra International India Ltd , which is the ground handling agency in Chennai airport, went on an indefinite strike from Wednesday. Their demand included wage increase, and providing basic medical and canteen facilities.

In a desperate attempt to clear the cargo, the Airport Authority of India had, in fact, requested the Custom House Agents to supply various companies’ loaders to handle export cargo at the examination area.

This will be allowed on a ‘special permission’ basis to work inside the palletised area (export).

The arrangement was for a smooth functioning of export shipment. However, some members of the air cargo industry felt that it was a serious issue as it could give access to people in a ‘highly sensitive and secured zone.’

They cannot allow such an arrangement, which can create security and safety-related problem, said an official of a leading logistics company who did not want to be identified.

The Airports Authority of India has deputed employees from other agencies with CHA staff members to partially clear the import consignment, said sources.

The workers were hired in 2010 and there were several hundred workers in six broad categories – handyman (loaders), fork lift driver, supervisor, shift in-charge, shed in-charge and house-keeping staff.

Sources said that every day, nearly 250 tonnes cargo (both import and export) are handled at the Chennai airport.

As of today evening, nearly 250 tonnes of export cargo are lying in the ramp uncleared.

This includes both belly cargo that is carried in passenger aircrafts and the regular freighters.

Officials of Chennai airport could not be reached for comments.

According to A.V. Vijayakumar, President, Chennai Custom House Agents Association, as of this evening there have been no negotiations between the striking work force and the management. There appears to be no solution.

“We are concerned with this development considering the fact that if strike is not resolved immediately and by tomorrow, during Pongal holidays, the trade and industry may be badly affected,” he said.

Efforts by Airports Authority of India to handle imports and exports are not very encouraging. There is no contingency plan and if the situation is not handled immediately, it may go out of control and there is every possibility of congestion at the Air Cargo Complex Terminal and paralyse the operations.

“We appeal to AAI to sort out this issue immediately for the benefit of trade and industry and ensure that the authority do not impose penal charges for delays in handling of cargo,” he said.

raja.simhan@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 10, 2013)
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