Tamil Nadu: Eight day old strike by transport workers over wage related issues temporarily called off

The Madras High Court on Thursday appointed its former judge E. Padmanabhan as an arbitrator to adjudicate the dispute between the government and transport corporation employees over the quantum of wage revision and directed the striking workers to resume work.

CITU leader A Soundarrajan told reporters that the strike was being “temporarily” called off, keeping in mind the people who have made plans to travel home for the Tamil harvest festival pongal, falling on Sunday.

The Madras High Court appointing an arbitrator today to settle their wage dispute with the government “shows there is something more than the 2.44 factor,” he said, indicating at their demand for a 2.57 time revision.

Later in the night, the trade unions called off the strike. The protest came to an end after eight days, during which commuters all over the State faced severe difficulties. Centre of Indian Trade Unions leader A. Soundararajan said the strike was called off and workers would resume work from Friday morning.

A Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and M. Govindaraj passed the order on a batch of PILs filed against the strike. It, however, rejected the workers’ plea to order that the legal validity of a settlement reached with a few unions on January 4 shall also be decided by the arbitrator.

Concurring with the submissions of Advocate-General Vijay Narayan, the judges made it clear that the arbitrator would decide on only two issues: whether the workers would be entitled to revision of wages using the multiplying factor of 2.57 as demanded by them or 2.44 as agreed to by the government, and the date from which such a revision would come into effect.

Taking note of the fact that as many as 11,000 buses were scheduled to be operated as special services for the Pongal festival, the judges pointed out that they had been making an appeal to the workers right from the inception of the cases to return to work by taking into consideration the enormous amount inconvenience which people were undergoing.

“In the interest of children, students, workers, patients, office-goers, traders, small-time vendors, and poor and middle class people, who represent the larger section of commuters, we direct the transport corporation employees to resume work immediately,” the Division Bench said and hoped that the workers would not continue their strike any more.

Earlier in the day, Senior Counsel V. Prakash, representing the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) submitted a memo in the court and said that the workers were willing to return to work if the government agreed to five of the demands listed out in the memo.

The first of the five demands was to refer the wage revision dispute for arbitration and the second was to stop the practice of not remitting statutory as well as non statutory deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts. The third demand was to pay wages for the strike period and fourth was to withdraw all criminal cases booked against striking workers.

The LPF also wanted the departmental proceedings to be revoked. In his reply to the memo, Transport Secretary P.W.C. Davidar agreed for arbitration on quantum of wage revision alone. He also stated that henceforth, there shall not be any delay in remitting the deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts.

The Secretary, however, said that the government was not inclined to pay wages for the strike period by following the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ and also because it had suffered loss to the tune of ₹100 crore due to the strike. “Any compromise on this, will dilute the discipline through the entire workforce and further encourage indiscipline across all sectors,” he said.

The government also refused to withdraw the criminal cases registered against transport employees on the ground that most of them were booked on charges of damaging public property.