Shipping cos seek stay against strike by unions

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Our Bureau

Mumbai, Nov. 21

SHIPPING lines have moved court against the strike called by a section of seamen on November 25, demanding recouping of the Rs 100-crore loss suffered by the Seamen's Provident Fund in securities trading in 2002.

A shipping company official said a writ filed by the Indian National Shipowners' Association in Mumbai High Court on last Saturday seeking a stay against the strike is expected to come up for hearing on Tuesday.

The Forward Seamen's Union of India (FSUI), which gave the strike notice, is also protesting against the SPF trustees' decision to reduce the rate of interest on seamen's provident fund (SPF) from 8.5 per cent to 5.5 per cent from this fiscal year.

According to the union, the Government is yet to take any action on its demands for restoration of the Rs 100-crore loss suffered by the fund, despite repeated appeals to various departments. Moreover, the administrator of SPF has decided to cut the interest rates drastically. "... this means the seamen will be subject to a loss of three per cent interest on their provident fund," said a union official.

SPF suffered loss as the fund was invested in Government securities allegedly in violation of the prescribed guidelines.

The union said if its demands are not met even after the one-day strike, it will go on indefinite strike, after 10 days.

Shipping companies are worried that if seamen strike work, it will lead to disruption of shipping service, resulting heavy losses. In the current market, one-day loss for the industry as a whole could be about $6 million, said the shipping company official.

"We (shipping companies) have nothing to do with union's demand. It is for the Government to decide on these issues. Why are they (unions) penalising us?" asked the chairman of a leading shipping line.

He said the shipping companies do understand the seamen's woes but they can only support their cause. "We have requested the union not to go on strike as it will not serve any purpose. On the other hand, it will only hurt us and they will lose our support and sympathy," the official said.

As the union was bent on resorting to the strike, shipping lines have no alternative but to seek legal recourse, said the official.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated November 22, 2005)
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