The indefinite strike by state government employees and schoolteachers in Tamil Nadu entered its second day on 23 January 2019.
Their main demands include reversal of the contributory pension scheme and restoration of the old pension system, as well as the disbursal of pay commission arrears.
Thousands of government workers from over 250 organisations are fighting unitedly under the banner of the Joint Action Committee of Tamil Nadu Teachers Organisation-Government Employees Organisation (JACTO-GEO).
Amid heavy deployment of police, more than 4,000 employees on Wednesday conducted a sit-in demonstration at Ripon Building in Chennai, which houses the Greater Chennai Corporation. Around 1,500 people were arrested and detained at a nearby hall until the evening.
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According to the protesting workers, 90 per cent of government and government-aided schools have been affected by the strike. Many government offices are also hit, and taluk offices across the state are closed down. The protestors claimed that ministerial workers as well as sections of the police are also participating in the strike.
On 21 January, the state’s chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan had warned the government employees and teachers of strict disciplinary action as well as pay cut, if they went on strike. But the protestors went ahead with the strike anyway.
“The government has been giving us false promises for so long now. We had warned them about this strike beforehand. Now they are threatening us saying we will not get our salaries. But we will not be deterred. We will see the end of this struggle,” said S Bakthavatchalam, state president of the Tamil Nadu High and Higher Secondary School Graduate Teachers Association (TNHHSSGTA), speaking to Newsclick.
Playing With Workers’ Hard-Earned Income
The primary demand of the protesting state employees is the reversal of the new contributory pension scheme. Under this scheme, the pension would be provided for from a fund set up specifically for this purpose, which will include contribution by the employees. The pension funds will be invested in the share market.
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This makes the future of the employees dependent on the ups and downs of the market.
“How can they play with our hard-earned money like this?” asked Tamilvanan, the Chennai district treasurer of TNHHSSGTA.
“We need this contributory pension scheme to be reversed immediately.”
The government employees are also seeking disbursal of pay commission arrears for 21 months. They are also demanding revocation of the decision to merge lower primary schools with higher secondary schools, and they want anganwadi workers to be given permanent posts instead of primary school teachers being deployed in lower primary schools.
“We support anganwadi teachers being given advanced training to become better. But using primary school teachers in anganwadis will effectively rob them of their jobs. This and the merging of primary and higher secondary schools are part of the privatisation agenda of the government,” said Tamilvanan.
The protestors said the government was responsible for the inconvenience that was being caused to school students and the public due to the strike.
“This is not a lightning (strike) strike. We have earlier raised these same concerns before the government. Back then, the ministers told us they would discuss it with the chief minister. But the CM has not responded so far to our demands,” said A Srinivasan, the Chennai district secretary of TNHHSSGTA.
“We are ready to get back into schools the moment the government agrees to our demands. But until then, the strike will go on,” he added.