Transport workers belonging to 17 trade unions in Tamilnadu, had gone on an indefinite strike after rejecting the government's proposal to hike the wages of the transport workers by 2.44%. There are about 1.4 lakh workers in the state's transport department to handle a fleet of 22,500 buses. Over 2 crore passengers use the services with buses travelling a total of 88.64 lakh km daily.
Members of striking trade unions of the transport employees in Coimbatore
The strike went on for several days. It was withdrawn after the government agreed to refer the question of wage hike to an arbitrator.
TN Transport workers had demanded a 2.57% increase in their salary, based on a formula. But the government, after 23 rounds of talks, agreed for a 2.44% raise. Unions have also demanded a minimum basic salary of Rs 19,500, on par with permanent government employees, whereas the government proposed a salary of
The workers had raised three other demands. The second demand of the unions was to stop the practice of not remitting statutory as well as non-statutory deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts. The third one was to pay wages to striking workers for the strike period. The fourth demand was to withdraw all criminal cases booked against striking workers.
The Transport Minister rejected further negotiations on the salary hike citing the reason that the state was losing money in operating its transport fleet and that the hike offered by the government will itself cost an additional Rs 1000 crores a year. In fact, immediately after the strike was withdrawn, the government hiked bus fares across all services, including intercity, town and metro services. The logic provided by the government that public transport services should run at a profit is a spurious one. Crores of people are dependent on public transport and it is the basic right of citizens and duty of the state to provide public transport services at affordable cost between towns, cities and villages.
According to a senior officer in the department, the government had roped in 4,758 drivers and 3,496 conductors on a temporary basis in order to break the strike.
This is a significant but partial victory for transport workers. The Transport Secretary, P.W.C. Davidar, agreed for the arbitration on quantum of wage revision alone. He stated that henceforth there shall not be any delay in remitting the deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts.
He, however, said the government was not inclined to pay wages for the strike period by following the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ and also because it had suffered loss to the tune of Rs.100 crore due to the strike. “Any compromise on this, will dilute the discipline through the entire workforce and further encourage indiscipline across all sectors,” he said.
The government also refused to withdraw the criminal cases registered against transport employees on the ground that most of them were booked on charges of damaging public property.
The Tamilnadu transport have been constantly on the war path for many years since the government has refused to act on its promises again and again. In May 2017, workers belonging to ten transport unions went on a 3-day strike. The strike was withdrawn after the TN government assured the unions that it would immediately disburse Rs 1,250 crore towards clearing various pending dues. The government also assured the unions that the strike period would be counted as leave days and that no action would be taken against those who participated in the strike. In a deja vu, the Madurai bench of Madras High Court had directed the striking trade unions of the state transport corporations to resume work immediately to ensure resumption of the public transport service. It had declared that if members of the unions failed to resume work, then the government should take necessary action against them under Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and take disciplinary and penal actions against violators of the Act. Whenever workers have gone on strike in Tamilnadu, for just demands, the courts have acted in a thoroughly anti-worker and fascist manner, as in the present case and recent strike of nurses.
The strike then had followed five rounds of discussions with the government.
It is clear that the Tamilnadu government and the high courts have been collaborating and using the carrot and stick policy, sometime threatening the workers with dire action and at other times coming to the discussion table and promising some interim relief.
Transport workers in Tamilnadu have never succumbed to these manipulative measures. They have stuck to their demands and have patiently dealt with both government and high court manoeuvres. This time again they have achieved partial victory and are determined to continue with their struggle until all their demands are met.