After the High Court stepped in to mediate between the State as Employer and the JACTO-GEO while denying the workers their right to strike, the new pay package by the State Government has not managed to satisfy the teachers and Government employees who are part of the federation. The JACTO-GEO representatives have objected to various issues including State Government’s not having taken cognizance of demands such as pay revision from 2016, higher wage increases for those lower in the hierarchy of employment, non-parity with Central Government employees’ pay structure and abolishment of NEET.
As we had reported earlier, JACTO-GEO had gone on strike from 7th September demanding pay revision as per seventh pay commission, end to contractualization of government services, and bring back old pension scheme. The leadership of JACTO-GEO split after differences emerged in using strikes as a strategy. As the existing coordinators favored pro-state approach and the representative unions seemed intent on continuing their struggle, a new leadership emerged which led the strike of the Government employees and teachers.
However, the Madurai High Court, in a Public Interest Litigation, came down hard on the striking workers invoking ESMA (Essential Services Maintenance Act) while stating that right to strike is not a fundamental right. As an inadequately prepared leadership ended the strike based on the judgment, the High Court had to step into the enforcement and mediation role demanding that the State address the concerns of the unions.
On October 11th, the State announced a hike, termed as massive by media, for Government employees and teachers. However, this has not placated the working class, especially those at the bottom rung of the ladder. For example, the inequality between the minimum wage and the maximum wage for Government employees is staggering. The minimum wage for the workers is set at Rs 15,700 (below the Rs 18,000 minimum wage by the trade union movement for all workers) and the maximum wage is Rs 2.25 lakhs. According to the union representatives, a multiplication factor of over 2.57 has been applied to the wages and perks. However, this translates to very telling difference. A worker at the category of sanitation work or clerical work would get around Rs 180 as transport allowance while an IAS officer would get an allowance in thousands.
As the court case drags on, the trade union representatives, unhappy with various provisions of the Tamil Nadu Government, organized an explanation meeting for the workers on October 20th. Speaking on the occasion, Comrade Anbarasan spoke on the political leadership and the bureaucrats who seem to benefiting from the workers struggles while the workers seem to be getting the lesser end of the stick. According to the speakers, several of the demands of the unions have been ignored by the Government. These include: pay parity with Central Government employees, pay arrears as the unions have been demanding increase in wages since 2016, end to new pension scheme and end to contractualization. If anything, the Government seems to be going the other way. At the same time the pay increase was announced, the Government also signaled its intention to outsource its operations, according to Com. Anbarasan (On 26th October, a new GO has been announced privatizing sanitation operations in Government schools).
In the meantime, even the current pay increase has not borne fruit, as the Treasury Department has said that they are not adequately prepared to implement the new wage revision. According to Com. Anbarasan, the Treasury Department Secretary is prepared to get a stay order from the Court against implementing these new provisions!
The ongoing court case seems to have left the trade union leadership in a difficult situation. While they continue the rhetoric of continuing the struggle, by allowing the Court to decide on the parameters of the struggle, they have forced themselves into toeing the line of the High Court. This has effectively allowed the State to limit the discussion to wage increases while other trade union demands are hardly under engagement. This seems to be evident in the case of contractualization which is being pursued aggressively by them. And, in the case of NEET, it seems that even trade union does not have any plans for pursuing this demand, giving in to the popular notion that JACTO-GEO was only playing to the burning issues of that moment.
JACTO-GEO has planned to meet following the Court hearing on October 23rd to plan their next course of action.