On 21st November, hundreds of retired transport workers protested outside the transport corporation offices in various parts of the state. Their long pending demands for timely monthly pensions as well as clearing of various other dues have still not been met despite several rounds of negotiations and the 2-day strike which was held by the workers in May 2017. In Chennai, workers blocked Pallavan salai for 45 minutes and the anger was palpable, even amidst heavy police presence. The Tamil Nadu State and Transport Corporation Retired Employees Welfare Association which is affiliated to CITU and which organised the protest demanded that all dues including pension, dearness allowance, provident fund, gratuity, and earned leave must be paid at once and that allocation in the government budget be made for the same.
The government and its state transport corporations through which it provides public transport continues to exploit thousands of its workers. Citing losses as the reason for non-payment of dues to both workers and retirees, the corporations have also used up crores of rupees belonging to workers. This includes PF deductions, money due for earned leave, and workers’ contributions for their credit/welfare society. In this situation, protests of this nature have become essential as well as standard tactic of the unions to make small gains. According to the unions’ estimate, there are around 66000 pensioners throughout the state and the following is a break-up of their total dues as on 30th June 2017.
|Particulars||No. of workers||Amount due (in crores)|
|Provident Fund (PF)||7328||Rs. 333.12|
The mariyal in Chennai was part of a larger coordinated action in 8 other cities and towns organised by the State Transport and Transport Corporations Retired Employees Welfare Association. Demonstrations also took place outside transport corporations headquarters Villipuram, Salem, Coimbatore, Madurai, Kumbakonam, Tirunelvel, Nagecoil and Thiruchy. In Chennai, hundreds of workers gathered outside the Metropolitan Transport Corporation headquarters and raised angry slogans before blocking the main road for 45 minutes. Many workers told Thozhilalar Koodam that they had worked for decades as drivers or conductors but were not being given DA, provident fund and other dues. Calling the government shameful, they taunted the police personnel who tried to push them off the main road to arrest them. “We are only asking for our money, after decades of service to the public, and this is how we are treated”, said one worker.
Many of the workers said that they did not know when they would get their pension each month and are demanding that like any other employee in the government, they too should receive their pension on a specific date without fail. Apart from this, workers who retire are almost never given their dues on their date of retirement. In some cases, they are given post-dated cheques while in other cases, they are asked to keep coming back to collect part of their dues. One worker, Ravichandran who was working as a conductor in Kumbakonam from 1989 and later transferred to MTC Chennai, retired in October and was drawing a salary of around Rs.35000 as a special grade conductor. “I have received two post-dated cheques, one for PF dated 2nd January 2018 and the other for gratuity dated 2nd April 2018. The department is not even telling me how much pension I can expect, though I am expecting that it will be around Rs.21000. I have taken many loans hoping that I could pay it back with this settlement, but I will have to continue to pay interest until the cheques clear” he said. In case of the Electricity Board however, he says that a friend who retired on the same day, received not only his settlement, but also a cheque with his pension for November. Many workers said that they were in similar situations of debt as they had to borrow money for marriage and education of their adult children
Among retired workers, there is a sense of disappointment that the May 2017 two-day strike, which focused on the plight of the pensioners has not yielded desired results. Following that strike an agreement was reached between the joint committee of unions and government. As Thozhilalar Koodam reported in May –
According to the agreement, Rs.750 crores and Rs.500 crores originally offered to be given in September, would be made available at once to clear the existing DA arrears and pension dues. This includes Rs.250 crores as an advance for student concession (GO 37), Rs. 375 crores as a short-term loan to settle provident fund and gratuity of retired workers (GO 38) and Rs. 121.84 crores as a Ways and Means advance (GO 39). After, three months, pension dues of the retired workers would be cleared. Apart from this, the statutory deductions which have not been paid to the respective departments (PF, LIC, gratuity, etc) will be looked at on a policy level. Wages will remain as per the 13th wage agreement until a new one is signed.
Com.Karzan, General Secretary of the association, said that although the government made these promises, nothing has yet reached the retired workers. “Only some of the money was released and was used to clear DA arrears of current workers. The Rs.375 crores that ought to have been released in September has not been given”, he said. The government continues to make promises even in court. During the strike, in response to the judiciary’s threat of imposing ESMA, a retired worker, Mayandi Servai apparently wrote a post card to the judges highlighting the plight of workers. The Madurai bench, which had originally taken up the PIL, took note of the issues raised by the worker and has taken up the case suo mottu. This case has now been transferred to the third bench of the Madras High Court and it is here that the government, on 20th November, that the first instalment of Rs.375 crores had been approved by the Finance Department and would be eventually released to the retired workers through the corporation. “It has been a week since they said this in court, but we are yet to see any move on this matter”, said Com.Karzan.
Meanwhile, the negotiations for the 13th wage agreement between the unions and the corporations have resumed and Com.Karzan says that they plan to wait for the progress of these talks. He said that they will meet again in December to plan the next step.