THE public transport workers numbering about 1,50,000 working in Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporations (TNSTC) across the state are on war path since January 4 in protest against the adamant attitude of the state government in meeting their genuine demands, which are as follows:
1) To make the pay and allowance equal to the drivers of the state government and other local bodies in the state. Currently the workers are getting Rs 700 less at the basic stage.
2) The workers have also demanded retuning of Rs 7,000 crores due from the corporation management which were deductions made towards PF, credit society, gratuity etc, that has been spent by the transport corporations.
3) Immediate settlement of retirement benefits to the retired transport workers which is pending for the last 15 years. The monthly pension which is now being given in two instalments shall be made as monthly and regular one.
4) To finalise the new agreement to be effective from 2017 for which the revision shall be 2.57 multiplier as given to the drivers of the government and local bodies in the state.
As is the practice in the past, the transport minister used to negotiate with the unions and upon finalisation of the agreement, the same used to be signed by the managements in the presence of the labour department officials. As there was no response from the government to initiate the process, the workers went on strike in May 2017. Thereafter the government agreed to settle the issues within three months and immediately released Rs 500 crores towards the payment. The government also settled the retirement dues within September 2017. The workers withdrew the strike upon the assurance of the government.
However, there was not much progress despite several sessions on this score. On January 4, when the talks were in progress at Pallavan House, wherein all the recognised unions were participating, the government called in labour department officials clandestinely through back door in order to effect an agreement with trade unions affiliated to the ruling AIADMK even if other unions are not willing to sign the agreement upon the terms dictated by the government. The workers were greatly agitated when they came to know these machinations of the government and on January 4 evening, they stopped buses and went on an indefinite strike.
The workers have been conducting various types of agitations, even involving the family members to drive the point of genuineness in their demands. The government reneged on its own assurances given to the high court on various occasions.
While the government has said that the TNSTC is in “debt”, A Soundararajan, a CITU leader from Tamil Nadu, pointed out that it is the government's misrule that that is to be blamed for the debt. By giving this excuse, the government is trying to discredit the genuine demands of the workers, he added.
Citing one of the many examples of the government’s misrule, Soundararajan said that the students in the state are entitled to get concessions in the TNSTC buses. For that, the education department has to afford the expenses. However, the department pays only 56 per cent of the expenses to the transport department.
“We will continue the protest till our genuine demands are met”, Soundararajan added.
Mentioning the plans of the government to celebrate the birth centenary of late MGR, Soundararajan asked: “the AIADMK government is spending crores for the birth centenary celebrations of late MGR, but why don’t they have money to meet the genuine demands of workers.”
As an example to the hypocrisy of ruling classes, on a PIL filed on January 5 in the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court, it refused to admit the petition and directed the state government to fulfill the assurances given to the court earlier. On the very next day another PIL was filed at Madras High Court on this issue and the first bench of the HC upon listening to the petitioner about the plight of the public in the state and the views of the state government, it simply directed the workers to resume their duties immediately. The bench did not blink twice to ascertain the views of the workers on this score. Despite such threats from many a corner, the transport workers are firm in their resolve to clinch the issue and continuing their strike heroically with the support of other trade unions and mass organisations in the state.