State Transport workers go on a flash strike as talks with government fails

Strike to continue on 5th Jan 2018

Thousands of workers throughout Tamil Nadu began a strike at 5pm yesterday as talks regarding the 13th wage agreement failed. One of the main points of contention was the factor based on which wage increments would be decided. While the left unions demanded that the calculation be based on a factory of 3 to put them on par with other government employees and were eventually willing to settle on 2.57, the government stood firm on 2.40. When it became clear around 5pm that the negotiations were bound to fail, workers across depots in Tamilnadu began to strike work. While the administration was caught off guard, it quickly rallied the police and pro government (AIADMK) union members and party cadres to force workers to return to work. In Pallavan House depot in Chennai, we witnessed many Anna Thozhillalar Peravai (ATP) members and party cadres threatening workers who had come to park their busses at the depot. This forced the workers to park the busses along Anna salai and other major roads. Reports indicate that workers were even assaulted by AIADMK cadres. But overall the strike was almost total, which indicates that even members of ATP (affiliated to AIADMK) struck work. As of today, with ongoing attempts to restart negotiations, the workers are still on strike.

Workers at Pallavan House 4th Jan

Notice announcing Strike

Workers have been severely distressed in the past few years; not only are wages low but Rs.7000 crores of their money (deductions made towards PF, credit society, etc) have been spent by the transport corporations.

 

  What unions asked for What the government offered
Increment Calculation with factor 3,

Willing to settle for 2.57

3 years agreement

Factor of 2.40 for 3 year agreement

One time Increment of 3% for those who have joined after 1.9.2013 (who are not under the last agreement)

 

Minumum wage Rs.19500 Rs.17700 (calculated based on factor of 2.57 only for Min. Wage)
Grade Pay Reduce the difference in grade pay between transport workers and other public sector workers No dialog
Pensioners PF and pension as per the agreement and PF Act for all workers who have been confirmed after 1st April 2003 No dialog
Dues Rs.7000 crores to be returned to workers

Ensure all deductions are credited to the appropriate accounts from January 2018.

Rs.1000 crores pumped in every year to settle dues

Dues will be credited to correct accounts from April 2018

Even after 22 rounds of negotiations in the past 16 months, the AIADMK government represented by Transport Minister Vijay Bhaskar has refused to budge citing the poor financial situation of the government. Many workers with whom Thozhilalar Koodam spoke expressed their dismay at the government’s stand. The head of the CITU branch union at the Central Depot (Pallavan road) has worked for 10 years and earns around Rs.20000 with a basic of around Rs.9000. “I have made my son and daughter study upto graduation on this salary. Can you imagine what my situation is today”, he said referring to the severe debt he is under. Similarly, another driver who joined in 2008 said that he had taken a loan of Rs.25000 last year for the education of his two young children and with a wage of Rs.19000, he is unable to repay the loan and the interest is only accumulating.

The situation of workers in the smaller towns is worse. A conductor, member of TTSF who works in Erode, said that he was confirmed in 1995 after a long struggle. Despite more than 20 years of service, he earns only Rs.20000 with a basic wage of around Rs.7500. Several retired workers who assembled at the TTSF office in Pallavan depot to help prepare for the strike, also confirmed that they had retired after 20-30 years of service with similar wages.

Workers on Strike in Madurai 5th Jan

Despite this dire situation, many workers said that they did not “wish” to strike but are being “pushed” to strike. There is an overwhelming understanding among transport workers that their work is important and essential for the public. As news spread of the Minister’s refusal to heed to the demands, by 5pm buses in several depots stopped plying. While commuters were understandably angry and upset, drivers and conductors patiently explained their situation and offered help with directions. MTC workers had earlier organized leaflet distribution to explain their demands and seek the support of the commuters. Union leaders remained upbeat about the commuters would support them. The response from commuters though remained divided. Caught unawares many felt that while their demands were reasonable, an unannounced strike has left commuters in trouble. Many blamed the government for failing to settle the issue amicably.

Commuters waiting for busses at Vadapalani

The strike was necessary at that time because it pushed the government and transport corporation officials to go into several rounds of discussions with the Chief Minister. But instead of continuing to dialog, they went ahead and signed an agreement with 32 other unions after the left unions walked out. This is a mischievous act meant to provide a false picture, divide workers and show them in poor light. In December of 2015, when the city had gone under water, the MTC drivers had shown courage and dedication in operating the services. It helped many people evacuate to safer places and reach emergency services like hospital. While they were hailed as heroes for a brief period, the government has forgotten their contributions soon. It is the support of the people that will grant them their basic dues.

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