On February 12, workers of the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) held a massive protest in Chennai demanding talks for a wage revision. The workers are also demanding a strengthening of the public transport system to ensure that basic facilities are extended to all state citizens.
With repeated representations submitted to the state government not yielding any results, the coordination committee of the trade unions have decided to begin a sit-in protest from March 10.
INITIATE WAGE TALKS
Transport workers from the state have been awaiting a revision of wages since September 2019 when the previous settlement expired. A revision of their dearness allowance is also being denied for the past fourteen months, at a time when inflation has been increasing gradually. Trade unions from across party lines have come together with the exception of unions affiliated with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which stayed away from the protest.
K. Arumuga Nainar, general secretary of TNSTC Workers Union affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), told NewsClick that the 13th wage agreement had expired in August last year and “for the past six months the AIADMK government has shown hardly any interest in beginning talks for the next agreement. Trade unions including the CITU have demanded that the concerned minister and the State Government begin talks, but nothing has happened so far”.
STRENGTHEN PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM
The state transport system has been functioning effectively, and links many remote villages across the state. In an annual event by the Association of State Transport Undertakings' (ASTRU) in July 2019, the state won nine awards in different categories. The government celebrated the awards, but workers were left to hit the roads insisting on their demands.
“The government has to consider the transport system as a service and must focus on financial issues while addressing the problems of the workers. The public transport system needs more attention to ensure that the facility is extended to all sections of the people and indirectly reduces traffic congestion in big cities,” said Nainar.
ALLOCATE MORE FUNDS
The state transport network is lifeline for people from sparsely populated villages as well as densely populated cities. Private operators depend largely on profits while the government is responsible for extending transport services to the public. While the balance sheet of the transport department is sure to be ridden with losses, trade union leaders insist on allocating more funds to the department.
Nainar said there were a number of provisions for the Government to make money but that it should not place the onus of profits on this department. “The government should allocate sufficient funds from its exchequer for the smooth settlement of wages and to extend this basic service to the people,” he adds.
The menial infrastructural facilities for workers in many depots have led to accidents claiming workers’ lives. In October 2017, a bus depot roof collapse in Nagapattinam claimed lives of eight transport workers and injured many others. The workshops and resting rooms need urgent attention of the government to avert further mishaps from happening.
MAKE WORKERS PERMANENT
For several years, thousands of workers employed in the transport department have been reserve drivers and conductors. Agitating workers also demanded that these workers, who have worked for more than 240 days, be made permanent as per existing norms. The increased workforce would ensure a smooth functioning of the department, workers said.
They also condemned the department and the government for not settling benefits for retired staff. The workers also demanded the re-introduction of the old pension scheme for workers who joined the service before April 2003.