KOCHI: With the container lorry strike called by a section of drivers and crew entering the fifth day, cargo movement to and from Cochin Port has run aground. This has prompted various stakeholders and port users to demand an end to the strike.
Besides, the numerous hartals which the state saw for the past few months affecting the cargo movement, this is the fourth strike that has paralysed the Port in 2017.
The first strike stretched from March 31 to April 5. It was called to protest a hike in insurance premium. Yet another strike hit the Port on April 19. It was called by Cochin Port Labour Union. Two months later in July, another strike, which went on for four days from July 9 to 12, was called regarding parking-related issues.There were many instances when strike calls were fended off through discussions.
Affecting cargo movement
The frequent strikes have badly affected the movement of cargo and this has subsequently led to a delay in delivery. The exim-community had time and again expressed their apprehension over the series of strikes that were adversely affecting the cargo movement. But it seems the Cochin Port is reluctant to shed its infamous tag as the Port of Uncertainty, say stakeholders.
Strike against harassment by Motor Vehicle Department
The ongoing strike has been called by the Container Thozhilali Sangham (BMS) against the alleged harassment that the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD) is meting out on the crew of the lorries.
“The drivers are slapped with a fine and their licences are being suspended by MVD. They allege the vehicles have been overloaded. Since August this year, MVD has cancelled the licence of six drivers and notices have been issued to several others. Though there exists an option to file an appeal against the notice, the entire exercise is a farce. The licence still remains suspended. As a result, the crew, mostly comprising drivers, who earn an average amount of Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 are forced out of their jobs. Since the licence gets suspended for six months, they have to remain jobless for the entire period,” said Dhaneesh Neerikode, president of the union.
Around 1,800 trailers are keeping off the road as part of the strike. Dhaneesh said the strike called by BMS has the silent support of other unions also. “Though other unions have not openly supported our strike, all are part of the agitation since this issue is faced by each and every lorry crew,” he said. The union is also demanding a compensation for drivers who lost their jobs after their licences got suspended.
Exempt shipping sector from strikes
Concerned by the series of strikes, the Cochin Steamer Agents’ Association has demanded to exempt shipping trade from strikes and hartals. “It kills jobs and aspirations as well as the economy and region. Losses in shipping are compounded since a major share of cargo falls under the perishable category. While the state government is trying hard to improve the ease of doing business, these unlawful strikes aimed at getting political mileage are affecting the prospects not only of the state but also the country also,” Steamer Agents’ Association office-bearers said. The Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry too agrees and said the shipping sector should be exempted from the strike. According to ICCI president Rajesh Agarwal, the issue pertaining to the weight of the cargo is understandable, but it is unfortunate that the shipping sector has to suffer for this.
“It may be noted that the issues in this regard are mainly caused by the coastal cargo movements and not actually by the shipping sector. The damage caused is many times higher than what it does to the local cargo movement,” Agarwal said.“Cochin Port already has a black mark in the international market due to the number of hartals and strikes which delays the cargo movement. This is a sensitive time period as far as Cochin Port is concerned, especially with the tax issues and new ports coming up. It will hurt us all in the long run if we do not take necessary measures to safeguard the interests of the shipping sector in all possible ways,” the Chamber said
Though the strike lasted five days, DP World, which operates the International Container Transshipment Terminal, claimed the cargo movement has not been affected in a big way. “The terminal operations are going on, though there has been a slight effect on the arrival and exit of containers,” said DPWorld authorities.