TN: Cooperative Society Workers on Strike After Promised DA not Granted
Image courtesy: Theekkathir
Protest demonstrations and strikes were held by fair price shop workers in many parts of Tamil Nadu last week. Their demands included providing 31% Dearness Allowance (DA), forming a separate department for them and renewing of earned leave provision.
Fair price or ration shops are a network of shops run by the state government as part of the Public Distribution System (PDS) in Tamil Nadu. They are cooperatives functioning under the Food, Civil Societies and Consumer Protection department.
Fair price shop workers have been urging consecutive state governments to accommodate them as public sector workers and ensure them of the allied benefits. They have been waging struggles toward clinching their demands. There are approximately 12 lakh workers in this sector at present.
Although the present Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government has promised DA provisions and forming a separate department for fair price shops is part of their election manifesto, they are reluctant to implement them.
While answering questions in the state Assembly in early April, the Food and Consumer Protection Department R Sakkarapani gave assurance of a 31% DA to fair price shop workers in line with state government employees. The minister promised to pass a GO upon taking the finance department's consent and ensuring its implementation.
However, the Tamil Nadu finance department has not granted permission for the DA provision. This has unsettled the workers, and at the call of two unions, strikes and protests were held in various districts in the state.
"There was a good response from the workers for the strike call. We were expecting 1,000 employees to participate, but 2,000 of them joined," said K Balasubramanian, honorary president of the Fair Price Shop Cooperative Workers Union.
Their union gave a call for a three-day strike starting from June 7 with a 25-point charter of demands. It included the implementation of increments for those who have completed 10 and 20 years in service and demanded payment of salaries via bank transfers.
Another union, the Tamil Nadu Fair Price Shop Employees Union, gave a call for an indefinite strike. G Rajendran, President of the union, said, "DA is a minimum benefit for the workers; they have to give it. It has given a bad name to the government. I am sure they will implement it."
After the Registrar of Cooperatives promised, on June 10, to pass the DA within one week, the strike was called off.
Upon the call for the strike, the Registrar of Tami Nadu Cooperative Shanmuga Sundaram sent circulars to zonal level joint registrars saying 'no work, no pay;' wages of those workers who went on strike would not be provided for those days.
The department has formed a committee for ensuring DA for fair price shop workers besides the registrar giving assurance of the same. Union leaders are asking 'what is the need for a committee to pass a revised GO?'
Krishnamoorthy, the state secretary of the fair price shop workers union affiliated with the CITU, said, "it looks like forming a committee is a way to delay the process. Now the committee will meet, deliberate and give recommendations, the recommendations will be considered, and this will take time."
He further said, "There is no need for a committee to pass a revised GO stating that each time the government employees get a DA hike, the cooperative workers should also receive the same."
Although CITU's union did not give a call for protests, in certain districts, union leaders and members participated in the protests.
Notably, the DA will be given by the Board of Cooperatives, not the finance department. The finance department's approval is necessary only to guarantee that the department's funds will be untouched.
The fair price shop workers are demanding the renewal of formerly existing benefits that were suspended, but they are not even given them.
"In 2010, after a long struggle, the fair price shop workers got DA, time-scale pay, city compensation allowance, shopping allowance and other increments under the leadership of then Chief Minister from DMK M Karunanidhi. The workers are merely demanding their renewal," said Balasubramanian.
He further said, "The DMK made big promises before the election, and one year into their tenure, we see no development."
Fair price shop workers are organised under various unions such as the ruling party-affiliated Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), AITUC, CITU and other independent unions. Each of them is waging independent struggles, and the workers are divided among them.
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