TN transport strike to continue. MLA pay hike adds to workers’ anger
Transport workers’ unions in Tamil Nadu have decided to carry on their indefinite stir notwithstanding the Tamil Nadu government’s announcement to release Rs 750 crore towards retirement benefits. The indefinite strike by 17 trade unions including the CITU and DMK-backed Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) entered the seventh day leaving the state crippled.
While there have been reports of the trade unions willing to call of the strike, CITU leader and Tamil Nadu State Transport Employees Federation president A Soundararajan insisted the strike will continue.
“The strike will continue until our demands are met. We are ready to talk to the government, provided it is ready to accept our demands,” Soundararajan told Catch. He dismissed as “false” reports which have quoted him saying that the unions were ready to accept wage revision by the 2.44 multiplication factor, as proposed by the state government.
Earlier in the day Chief Minister E Palaniswami announced in the Tamil Nadu Assembly that the government will be releasing Rs 750 crore towards retirement benefits while urging the unions to call off the strike.
"I am happy to announce that the Amma (late chief minister J Jayalalithaa) government will provide Rs 750 crore towards pending (dues) for those who retired up to November 30, 2017. This will be provided before Pongal festival," he said.
"Therefore, with most of the demands of the transport corporation staff being accepted, the workers should immediately withdraw their strike in the interest of the people and return to work," he appealed, reported PTI.
The major demands by the workers unions include
-A hike of 2.57 times in their salary to be at par with permanent state government employees (basic pay of Rs 19,500 per month)
-Removal of discrepancies in pay scale within the department.
-Deductions made from salaries of existing employees towards social security schemes like provident fund, insurance and gratuity were yet to be deposited in the respective bank accounts of workers.
-Immediately release terminal benefits of retired transport employees which are kept pending for more than 15 years.
The unions went ahead with the strike despite the Madras High Court restraining the State Transport Corporation employees from continuing their strike.
A bench of the High Court while hearing a PIL though told the state government that it must take earnest steps to address the genuine grievances of the employees and pay forthwith to them the statutory dues.
Launching the strike on January 4, the union had said that they were compelled to go on the stir, as despite “21 rounds of talks in the last 16 months” the government failed to arrive at a decision regarding the unions’ demands for wage revision.
MLAs' salary hike
The day also saw the Tamil Nadu government introducing a Bill in the Assembly proposing to double the monthly salary and other allowances for MLAs.
The MLAs salary hike bill attracted widespread criticism with DMK staging a walkout from the Assembly.
“People will laugh at us for this hike when transport workers in the state are on strike demanding salary hike,” said DMK working president MK Stalin.
While the state government has been repeatedly urged to call of the strike and called for negotiations, the trade unions are adamant at continuing the stir until their demands are accepted by the government.
While Chief Minister reiterated the government’s willingness to increase wages by 2.44 times, the trade unions have refused to concede and have lambasted the government for the MLA salary hike bill.
“The Tamil Nadu government continues to be insensitive towards the workers’ demands. The government is more focused on keeping the MLAs happy by giving them a salary bonanza but is least concerned about the plight of the workers,” said CITU general secretary Tapan Sen.
Describing the stir as being for the sake of the workers as also for the common people of the state, the unions have said they will intensify the stir.
Joined by their family members, including children, workers staged demonstrations outside divisional offices of state-owned transport corporations across the state.
“It is nothing but our own money that the government has illegally misappropriated. Most of the sum amounting to Rs. 5,500 crore was not deposited into our PF (provident fund) accounts and we cannot even take loans,” said Soundararajan
Tamil Nadu has over 22,000 buses with a workforce of about 143,000 employees. The employees have been fighting for over a year for wage revision and for clearance of arrears that amount to Rs7,543 crore, including retirement benefits and provident fund.