Shiromani Committee vs Employees Union: A Clash of Interests

by Parminder Singh Sodhi

A high-level delegation from the Shiromani Akali Dal recently engaged with Punjab’s Governor, Banhwari Lal Purohit. At the center of attention is the demand put forth by the employees of the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Amritsar. They seek the declaration of the newly established employees’ union as illegal. This historic development, marking the first-ever employee union formation within the 103-year history of the Shiromani Committee, has been officially registered under the name ‘Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee Employees Union’. The Registrar of the Labor Department, Punjab Government, formalized its status under the Trade Union Act 1926 on July 17, 2023.

The demand by the Shiromani Akali Dal reveals the extent to which it will resonate within Akali constituencies. While there is no explicit prohibition against union formation in the Shiromani Committee’s service rules, the committee itself, established over a century ago to oversee Sikh historical Gurdwaras, functions under the Sikh Gurdwara Act 1925. These Gurdwaras serve not only as places of worship but also as forums for religious, social, and political discourse, driving Sikh organizations’ political influence. Committee members are elected through votes, historically dominated by the Shiromani Akali Dal. The party’s resources have significantly shaped Akali Dal’s political landscape.

Persistent reports of manipulating Shiromani Committee rules for personal and political gain by Akali leadership have surfaced over time. Favors in employment and promotions are widespread, with some employees eagerly awaiting their turn for advancement. Despite earnest warnings about rule violations within the SGPC, internal conflicts persist, leading to the formation of the ‘Employee Union’ by dissatisfied members. Headquarters in Amritsar, with Gurvinder Singh Bhoma, the Committee’s Accountant, elected as its President, the union’s reach extends to around 20 thousand employees out of the larger workforce. Though the exact membership count remains undisclosed, estimates suggest over 2 thousand have joined. Notably, these employees have often been viewed as a crucial voting bloc for the Akali Dal. A surge in union membership might signal growing dissatisfaction towards the party. Consequently, the Shiromani Committee faces a fresh challenge from this union, escalating tensions between its management and the newly formed entity.

Harjinder Singh Dhami, President of the Shiromani Committee, categorizes the union’s formation as a violation of rules, pointing fingers at the Punjab government for purportedly meddling in religious affairs. Dhami contends that the Committee’s sanctity, upheld through community support and donations, sets it apart from commercial enterprises where unions typically emerge. He maintains that tradition must be preserved, shielding the Committee’s reputation from malicious intent. The union offers employees a platform to voice their concerns collectively, amplifying their individual voices.

Union President Gurinder Singh Bhoma perceives the union as a family, prioritizing members’ interests. The union plans to address employee issues while striving to rectify internal organizational weaknesses. Bhoma acknowledges misinterpretations of the union’s intentions but remains steadfast in its pursuits. He asserts the union’s commitment to a collaborative platform for employees to engage constructively with the Committee, with no intention of tarnishing its reputation.

Amid these tensions, transfers have been enforced by the Committee, transferring Bhoma and other union leaders to different locations, triggering employee protests. Bhoma’s bold leadership is evident, and the union directly challenges the Committee to halt perceived suppression tactics. The union’s letter to the Committee conveys concerns about increasing employee resentment due to unfavorable attitudes, citing other unions operating under the Committee’s jurisdiction to assert its legitimacy.

The Committee’s influence appears to be slipping. A committee member’s role in instigating the Akhand Pathiyas Union underscores growing dissent. Union members’ frustrations emerge in other aspects as well, such as mandatory salary deductions for flood relief, seen as benefiting the Badals. The union calls this out as manipulative, positioning it as an advertisement campaign for the “Management Owners Advertising Company.”

The union forwards several demands: compassionate assistance to the families of employees who die on duty, permanent accidental and medical insurance for service staff, and consistent inflation-adjusted wages. The committee’s management is urged to heed these demands in the interest of employee welfare.

As the newly formed employees’ union seeks to bridge the divide between the Shiromani Committee and its workforce, both parties remain determined. The outcome of this clash could hold intriguing implications, potentially impacting the Akali Dal’s already tenuous position.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Parminder Singh Sodhi

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