Coal India unions threaten 'work to rule' strike

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Coal India Ltd said its worker unions have threatened a three-day "work to rule" strike this month demanding the return of coal blocks allocated by the government to private firms and withdrawal of plans to sell a stake in the company.

The "work-to-rule" strike would mean a limited number of miners will attend work with minimum disruption to daily activities. However, it would still aggravate an already severe shortage of the fuel in the country.

More than half of India's thermal power plants, which source most of their coal from state behemoth Coal India, have stocks enough to last for only less than a week.

Coal India said in a statement that five unions representing more than 350,000 workers of the world's largest coal producer will resort to "work to rule" from Sept. 18.

They want the government to allocate to Coal India the 218 coal blocks awarded mostly to private firms over the past two decades and ruled illegal by the Supreme Court last month.

The top court is expected to decide on the fate of the blocks in a hearing on Tuesday.

The coal workers have also asked the new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw its planned sale of a 10 percent stake in Coal India and stop restructuring the company without consulting with the unions.

Last year the unions successfully blocked the previous government's move to sell a stake in the company. Workers fear divestment or any restructuring of the company would eventually lead to jobs cuts.

They have also opposed investments by Coal India in mines abroad and urged instead to use the money to start coal projects in India which may also generate employment within the country.

"Efforts are being made to reconcile the same," Coal India said. The coal ministry could not be reached for a comment.

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