THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: In what is seen as an attempt to wrest greater control over trade union activities, KSEB Limited in an unprecedented move has brought out an official list of posts, divided into ‘officer’ and ‘workmen’ categories, and has prohibited employees in the ‘officer’ category from taking part in any trade union activity. Since there was no such list till now, ‘workmen’ who got promoted held on to the vagueness in classification to continue their trade union activities though a stricture against ‘officers’ engaging in trade union activities existed since 1980.
A 1980 order wanted employees promoted as ‘officers’ to “unconditionally relinquish” their trade union membership. “However, it was found that certain employees, even after being promoted to the officer cadre, were willfully engaging themselves in the capacity of office bearers in trade unions disregarding the Board's order,” a top KSEBL official said. Consequently, the Board issued a circular in 2002 instructing employees to refrain from violating the Board's orders and warning them of disciplinary action. Nothing changed.
Even after the 2002 circular it was usual for promoted hands to be retained as general secretary or secretary or even as treasurer in the union. Their presence in the ranks gave trade unions an edge during crucial negotiations with the Board. “Now with experienced seniors effectively weeded out, trade unions can be easily browbeaten by the Board,” said a former sub-engineer (workmen category) who was promoted as assistant engineer (officer category) two years ago but was still active in union activities.
It was a protracted legal battle that led to the putting out of the latest list. In 2017, a KSEBL employee filed a writ petition in the High Court challenging the involvement of certain employees working as officers in trade union activities. The HC asked chief engineer (HRM) to hear the respondents and take necessary action. The chief engineer invoked the 1980 order and ruled against officers taking part in union work. This was questioned by an affected employee.
The main contention raised by the petitioner was that the Board has not issued formal orders classifying the posts of employees as belonging to workmen and officers. Again, the HC ruled in the Board’s favour. The list was then put out to end ambiguity. Besides putting put the list, KSEBL will also obtain a written declaration from employees promoted to the officer grade that they had completely severed links with their trade union. There are 27 officer posts, and 42 workmen posts.