Transport workers strike in Tamil entered its seventh day on Wednesday spurning the state government's offer to more than double their wages, as the chief minister appealed to them in the state Assembly to accept the proposal and call off the stir. Chief Minister E Palaniswamy said in the Assembly that the government was willing to increase wages by 2.44 times.
But the workers, who want a 2.57-time hike, stepped up their protest, staging a dharna with family members, including children, outside divisional offices of state-owned transport corporations across the state. As many as 17 trade unions, including those affiliated to the DMK and the Left, are on an indefinite strike, having rejected the government's hike proposal.
As the strike brought the public transport in the state to a halt, reports said that the Tamil Nadu government tabled a bill which will increase the salaries of MLAs by nearly 100 percent.
According to CNN-News18, the bill will increase the monthly salary and other allowances of each member of the Assembly from the existing Rs 55,000 to Rs 1.05 lakh.
#BREAKING -- Tamil Nadu Govt introduce bill for 100% salary hike for the state MLAs. The monthly salary and other allowances paid to every member of the legislative assembly in Tamil Nadu will be increased from the existing ₹55,000 to ₹1.05 lakh. pic.twitter.com/tiDV6QCgmH
— News18 (@CNNnews18) January 10, 2018
Transport unions across Tamil Nadu have demanded that chief minister E Palaniswamy should come to the negotiation table to resolve the ongoing pay dispute, All India Radio reported on Wednesday. On the other hand, a special bench of Madras High Court will be hearing cases related to the strike at 2.15 pm, reported The Hindu. Meanwhile, the state government announced bonus for Group C and D employees ahead of three-day Pongal festival, All India Radio reported.
"Salary has been hiked. it is not fair to ask that it should be further increased...I appeal to workers...they should return to work," the chief minister said on Tuesday.
War of words over strike in Assembly
As the issue triggered a war of words between the treasury and Opposition members, Palaniswamy also sought the cooperation of Leader of the Opposition MK Stalin (DMK) and others in bringing the strike to an end.
"Our stand is that this (2.44-time hike) should be accepted... The leader and deputy leader of the Opposition and members should help (in ending the strike)," he said.
The chief minister also rejected the Opposition charge that he had not held talks with the trade unions.
He said talks were held after consultations with him and the wage increase was announced by Transport Minister MR Vijayabaskar on his advice.
"It is everybody's desire that a cordial atmosphere should prevail," he said, adding the Opposition was aware that transport corporations were in a poor financial state.
The chief minister said even during the DMK regime Rs 922 crore had been kept pending for disbursal to retired employees.
Earlier, raising the issue, Stalin wanted Palaniswamy to intervene to resolve the issue, and offered him his support.
He said workers had demanded a 2.57-time hike, a minimum wage of Rs 19,500 and an agreement every three years on salary hikes that would also address grade-pay differences.
Stating that the unions had scaled down their demand to 2.57 from their earlier call for a 3-time hike, he said, "It cannot be said that the workers did not cooperate."
Stalin said the strike had hit the people, especially students, and asked why Palaniswamy was not inclined to hold talks. DMK leader Duraimurugan too wanted the chief minister to intervene in the matter.
Citing the Madras High Court's directive that employees should return to work, Palaniswamy said the directive should be respected.
Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam wanted to know if it was true that the DMK-affiliated LDF and Left Unions did not give a notice for the strike.
He said while negotiations were on, messages were spread through social media sites stating that the talks had collapsed -- which, he said, prompted the employees to go for a flash strike (on the night of 4 January).
DMK members led by Stalin objected to the statement, and urged Speaker P Dhanapal to expunge it.
If that was not done, his party members should also be allowed to refer to such messages, he said. As DMK members rose to their feet, Dhanapal urged them to be seated and said both the views had been put on the record.
Madras High Court intervenes
The Madras High Court had on Monday refused to lift its 5 January interim order restraining the employees from going on a strike but directed the government not to dismiss them from service without its permission.
While looking into the grievances of the striking employees, the Chief Justice Indira Banerjee also remarked that the Palaniswamy government should privatise transport corporations if it could not manage them properly, The Hindu reported.
The trade unions, however, have said the employees were "firm" on their demands and announced that the indefinite strike would continue.
Strike affects commuters
The strike severely affected commuters, even though the government tried to keep the transport services running by bringing in temporary drivers and conductors in addition to the employees who were not on strike. Commuters were inconvenienced by the reduced number of buses on the roads.
There was also uncertainty about advance booking for special buses for 'Pongal', which normally commences ahead of the harvest festival on January 14. Many were unable to do so as the advanced booking counters remained shut at the Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus today.
The Southern Railway ramped up train services to cope with the extra rush caused by the ongoing strike.
Union minister of state Pon Radhakrishnan, talking to reporters in Nagercoil, wanted both the government and unions to find a solution to the problem of wage revision by "ceding their stand without standing on prestige".
Striking employees suspended
In a related development, 19 employees of transport corporations in Madurai, Thanjavur and Kumbakonam have been suspended for allegedly indulging in violence and causing damage to public property during the strike.
A Madurai report quoting officials said 11 workers of the Madurai unit, six in Thanjavur and two in Kumbakonam had been suspended.
With inputs from PTI
Updated Date: Jan 10, 2018 14:35 PM