About 1.5 lakh state transport workers of Tamilnadu went on an indefinite strike from 14th May 2017. These workers operate about 23,000 buses all over the state and carry about 2.25 crore passengers/commuters every day. They were protesting non-payment of wages and retirement dues.
The Tamilnadu State Transport Corporation had deducted Rs.4500 crores from the workers’ salaries as statutory deductions, but had not deposited the amount to the accounts of the Provident Fund, Credit society and other organizations for which the deductions had been made. Instead the amounts deducted from the workers’ wages have been applied to meet other expenses of the Corporation. Due to this, the PF, Credit Society and other funds are denying workers their benefits. Workers are demanding that this stolen and illegally misused amount of theirs be immediately credited to the statuary bodies to enable them use their services.
Striking Transport workers in Chennai
The Corporation has also not been paying the workers’ retirement benefits such as Provident Fund, Gratuity, Leave Salary, Pension, etc. due on retirement, for the last several years, saying that it does not have funds to pay them. A total of Rs. 1,700 Crores is thus pending to be paid to the retired workers. There are also various wages and dues to be paid to the workers currently in service. This amount comes to over Rs. 300 Crores. The 12th wage settlement for TN state transport workers was to have been implemented effective September 2013. However workers were not paid a large part of their wages and benefits as per the settlement, although it was signed and agreed to by the management. And the new wage revision (13th settlement) should have been negotiated and come into effect from Sep 2016. So far there is no progress to negotiate and work out a settlement. There are also many anomalies in the wages between transport workers and others in the governmental services.
Workers and retired employees have taken to the streets on dharnas, hunger strikes, and various other protests all across Tamilnadu to draw the attention of the government to their plight, but there has been no response. They have tried legal means for redressal of their grievances but to no avail. Left with no other options, workers launched this indefinite state-wide strike with their demands, aware that the public would be seriously inconvenienced. On its part, the government maintained the façade of negotiations even as it unleashed violence on the striking workers and arrested the leading union activists on the eve of the date announced for the strike. In response to these attacks, transport workers all over TN stopped work spontaneously by noon of 14th May itself, bringing the transport services to a halt in various parts of the state.
Government’s attempts to divide the workers failed as workers were united across trade unions and political parties. Even the ruling AIADMK union activists and members were seen to actively participate in the strike in considerable numbers. In Chennai itself, over 15,000 policemen were deployed to defend the illegal strike breaking activities of the government. The government also threatened the striking workers that they are going to recruit temporary workers and deploy them in their place.
Responding to the “serious impact of the strike”, the division bench of High court has ordered that “Members of the trade unions to resume work forthwith to ensure the regular service of public transport. If the members fail to resume work, the Chief Secretary and Transport Secretary are directed to take necessary action against them under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), to invoke the power of disciplinary action and penal action against the violators". This shows the real face of judiciary, an organ of the Indian state. It has not questioned the illegal siphoning-off of the workers statutory funds, and failure to meet its commitments to provide the pension and other retirement benefits for the workers, etc. On the other hand it has directed the authorities to use a black law on the workers for asking their long pending rights!
Many workers and staff unions such Bank Employees Union, Government Employees Union have come out in militant support of the striking transport workers and issued notices and posters. All Communist and workers parties, organizations and all political parties, except the ruling AIADMK whole heartedly supported the strike.
Faced with the mounting opposition to the unjust attacks on the transport workers, and all round support for the striking workers, the government has partly yielded to the demands. It has agreed to provide Rs. 1250 crores immediately for payment of dues to the retired employees by end of September 2017. As far as payment of statutory deductions to proper accounts is concerned, the government has promised to take a ‘policy decision’ within the next three months. It has also promised to continue the negotiations for finalizing the 13th wages settlement. Based on these promises, the transport workers have withdrawn their strike for the present.