The workers of the state-run transport corporation in Tamil Nadu have begun an indefinite strike from February 25 demanding an early settlement of wage talks. After the workers began the first round of the strike, the talks held by the corporation failed, leading to the workers resuming the strike.
The February 24 announcement of the state government on an interim relief of Rs 1,000 per month, until a settlement is arrived upon, failed to please the unions, which are demanding to hold productive talks for a long time. The government is allegedly intentionally delaying the talks on wage revision, claim the unions.
Public transport remained highly affected in the state as most of the unions participated in the strike with the exception of the ruling party-affiliated unions and a few other minor players. The major trade unions including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) are participating in the strike.
Transport workers, including drivers, conductors, and workshop employees are participating in the strike. The operation of the fleet has reduced to less than 15% of the total capacity, which reflects massive participation by the workers.
‘Ready For Talks’
K Arumuga Nainar, general secretary of the CITU-affiliated Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) Workers Union, said, “We have conveyed our demands to the Chairman and Managing Director of the TNSTC. All the trade unions have conveyed the willingness to hold talks if the government invites us; till then the strike will continue”.
Public transport in Chennai and other parts of the state remained sparse with buses operating in very less frequency. The trainees certified by the Institute of Road Transport and Technology (IRTT) are being utilised to operate the buses as a large number of workers stayed away from work.
The ‘arrogant’ attitude of the state government, in spite of the number of meetings held with officials and the protests by the transport workers, is cited by the trade union leaders as the reason for the strike.
The government has been unilateral in announcing interim relief, which irked the workers who have been demanding wage revision and fruitful talks for the past several months.
The implementation of the model code of conduct for the Assembly elections, expected sometime in the first week of March could further extend the wage talks, said the trade union leaders.
GOVT USING TRAINEES TO DILUTE STRIKE
The usual strategy is being used by the state government to dilute the strike-- trained workers, working now in less paid jobs under private entities, are being invited to operate the buses on a daily wage basis.
An employee of the TNSTC said, “The IRTT trainees are invited to attend work on such emergencies on the promise of providing them permanent work in the future. The government and the corporation officials have used this strategy on many previous occasions to weaken the strike by luring the less paid workers. But none of their promises has been fulfilled”.
The existing vacancies in the department have remained vacant since 2017 as the state government has refrained from recruitment. The government had to reduce the fleet in several parts of the state, after granting permission for private players to operate buses.
The previous wage agreement expired in September 2019, but the government continued to delay the talks and then cited the COVID-19 induced lockdown as the reason. Several retired workers and employees were denied retirement benefits as well.
The delaying tactics of the state government may not work for long as the workers across all the departments in the transport corporation have responded positively to the strike call of the trade unions.