February 15th was the sixth day of the strike by Tamil Nadu government employees association (TNGEA). In Chepauk on 16th,over 600 workers protested and were arrested by the police. The main demands of the strike include:
1) Reverting to the older pension scheme which was in place before 2003.
2) Fill up vacant posts, with people in regular pay scale (as opposed to consolidated pay).
3) Abolish consolidated pay and outsourcing.
4) Provide allowances for housing, transport and education as stipulated by the Central Government.
5) Bring noon-meal workers, anganwadi workers, village administration office assistants into regular pay scale.
Unions of primary school teachers, judicial workers and Medical department workers were among some of the unions that participated in the strike. According to Nambirajan (Medical Workers Union State Secretary and TNGEA North Chennai District Vice President, over 10 lakh workers have participated in the strike across the state and the strike is supported by 68 unions.
The demands for older pension scheme follows a move in 2003, where workers were moved from Employee Provident fund (EPF) to a contributory scheme tied to the market. Employees contributed 10% of their salary to a fund manager, and this contribution was supposed to be matched by the employer. However an RTI revealed that 6000 crores rupees of employee contributions had gone missing. The new system has the further weakness that it cannot be used a security to obtain loans.
The noon meal and anganwadi workers went on a seven day strike in April 2015 to press some of their demands, which are also part of the demands in the current strike. The following are some of their demands, as told to us by Sundarambal from the noon-meal workers union (part of TNGEA). They demand that pension be increased to 50% of the Government pay grade (which would amount to about Rs 3500/month for a worker after 30 years of service), as opposed to Rs 1000 that they currently get. The demand that the one-time gratuitity payment be increased to Rs 3 lakh from the Rs 50,000 and Rs 30,000 that is paid to Anganwadi and noon-day workers respectively. They also demand that noon meal workers, anganwadi workers, village librarians and village clerks be brought up to regular pay scale, these workers currently earn under Rs 3500 a month. The demanded a minimum wage of Rs 15000/month for all workers.
TNGEA had presented their list of 20 demands to the Tamil Nadu chief secretary on 22nd Jan 2016, but no action was taken. On 9th Feb 2015, representatives of TNGEA met a four minister committee, which included the finance minister of TN. The committee admitted that the demands were just and that they would be forwarded to the CM, but no action has been taken so far. An indefinite strike started on 10th February to press these demands.
The protesters in Chepauk chanted ‘pecchu vaarthai endra peril, ematradhe ematradhe, tamilaka arase tamilaka arase!’ (Government of Tamil Nadu, do not fool us in the name of talks). The protest included a brief road roko, following which the police detained 250-300 workers.