Over the past year, Tamil Nadu has witnessed a series of strikes by various sections of employees, both in the public and private sector. While some of these essential services have hit citizens across the state, the reasons for the strike range from increased wage hikes to protesting government policy interventions. Who has been striking and why? Here is a list.
Public bus employees
For Tamil Nadu, the year began with a seven-day strike by employees of the State Transport Corporation (TNSTC). As many as 17 trade unions had launched an indefinite strike on the night of January 3, asking for the 'factor' for wage revision to be fixed at 2.57 times, while the state government contended that it should be 2.44 times. While unions settled for the government number, it came as a bitter pill as the Madras High Court had intervened, ordering action on striking employees. The employees had also been demanding long-pending dues, including the pension of retired employees and the arrears to be paid as per the wage revision over the past 5- 6 years.
The Transport Minister had reportedly said that the TNSTC was facing huge debts and heavy losses, rendering it unable to make the payments. Nearly 2 crore commuters were affected over the seven-day period.
In May this year, bank employees in the state as well as in the union territory of Puducherry went on strike over the 'meagre' two percent wage hike that had been announced. While this was part of the national call to strike by the United Forum of Bank Unions, services in the state were also hit.
According to one report, 12 lakh cheques worth Rs 7,000 crore remained unprocessed over the two-day strike. The employees also demanded that they be paid their wage revisions at the earliest for all officers to Grade VII, in addition to better working conditions.
Teachers and government employees
Members of the Joint Action Council of Teachers Organisations- Government Employees Organisation (JACTO-GEO) have been striking repeatedly since April this year over the new pension scheme of the central government as well as the disparate difference in pay between central and state government employees.
The teachers from the organisation protested against the move of the Tamil Nadu government to reduce the number of government schools, the sanctioned posts of teachers and other government employees.
While the government has reportedly said that they would look into the demands of the government employees and teachers, no word has been forthcoming on how their demands would be met.
Pharmacists and chemists
Over 20,000 chemists and pharmacists in the state went on a one-day strike in September this year, protesting against the central government's move to regulate the sale of medicines online. According to one report, the pharmacies fear that the online sale of medicines may cause a significant loss of business to these drug store owners.
The Central government proposed a single window registration for online pharmacies that would not require them to register in states and union territories.
J Shinde, President of All India Chemists and Druggist Association had said, â€śOn one hand the government is considering a cap on trade margins and at the same time, it is introducing regulations for online pharmacies. These online companies are being funded by large investors and can afford to give huge discounts. The traditional offline retail stores will suffer and will have to shut.â€ť
In August this year, the Tamil Nadu Government Doctors Association (TNGDA) went on strike demanding pay parity with doctors employed by central government medical institutions. According to M Ramesh, Secretary of the Association, doctors employed by the government of Tamil Nadu start off with the same pay as their central government counterparts. However, the central government employees received quicker promotions and larger pay hikes.
The strike was no surprise, however, since the group of doctorsâ€™ associations had submitted a 26-page document to the government last year, demanding, among other things, similar work-based allowances and age of retirement as central government doctors.
Private water tankers and packaged drinking water companies
In October this year, citizens of Chennai, Kanchipuram and Tiruvallur districts experienced an unexpected three-day water crisis, courtesy of a strike called by the Private Tanker Operators Association and the Greater Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association.
The strike is in opposition to the restrictions on drawing groundwater by the Madras High Court. The court segregated groundwater blocks into four categories and banned water extraction from over-exploited blocks. It has also warned that those extracting ground water illegally will be punished for theft. The court upheld a 2014 Government Order issued by the Public Works Department that regulates the extraction of groundwater for commercial purposes by commercial establishments.
However, the strike was called off by both associations after three days with the government agreeing to look into their demands after several rounds of talks.
Midday meal workers
Noon-meal scheme workers from around 40,000 centres across the state went on strike in October, citing poor wages, especially compared to other state government employees. Noon meal workers provide midday meals to students across government schools in the state as per the nutritious meal scheme programme of the government. According to these workers, a noon meal scheme organiser would make Rs 12,000 a month while a cook and helper are paid Rs 6,000 and Rs 4,000 each. However, their pension is a meagre Rs 2,000, a pittance for the nearly 35 years of service, they said.
In addition to this, the midday meal workers have also demanded maternity leave benefits and including them under the ambit of the Chief Ministerâ€™s comprehensive health insurance scheme. While the police detained hundreds of striking workers, the workers are yet to receive an answer to their demands.
With elections to 20 legislative assembly seats and 39 parliamentary seats on the anvil in the state in the coming months, it remains to be seen if the government moves to resolve the issues put forth by these groups of workers.