In what could potentially disrupt midday meals to school children across the state, the Tamil Nadu noon meal scheme workers began an indefinite strike on Monday in an attempt to pressure the state government to increase their wages. On the second day of the strike on Tuesday, workers carried out a road roko protest in Coimbatore.
Noon-meal scheme workers from around 40,000 centres across the state have expressed solidarity with the cause, and have joined the strike, according to M Innachimuthu, the District President of the Noon-meal Workers Association. At least two people from each centre have gone on strike.
â€śAs of now, the organiser earns Rs 12,000 a month, cook earns Rs 6,000 a month and a helper earns Rs 4,000 a month. We are getting a pension of Rs 2,000 a month which is a totally negligible amount for service of 35 years. Our request to the government is to bring us on par with the benefits received by other government employees. This apart, the government employees also get gratuity of around Rs 15 lakh after they retire from employment whereas we get only around Rs 60,000,â€ť he told TNM.
An organiser in a noon-meal scheme is responsible for the quantity of meals cooked and maintaining the register related to the provision supplies and stock. While the cook prepares the meal, the helper does other work related to the meal and helps the cook with preparation.
Other demands put forth by the workers are maternity benefits for women workers, extending the health insurance coverage under the Chief Ministerâ€™s comprehensive health insurance scheme to cooks and helpers, filling of vacancies in the posts to cooks and helpers etc. The workers from Coimbatore district had already staged a sit-in protest from October 25 to October 27. On October 27, when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami visited Coimbatore, the workers gave a petition to him, outlining their demands.
â€śWe gave a petition to the Chief Minister on October 27 when he visited Coimbatore. He took it and asked us to come visit him in Chennai to discuss about this. We had sought permission to meet him many times since he became the Chief Minister but not once has he accepted our request for a meeting. So we donâ€™t really have hope this time either,â€ť Innachimuthu said.
According to reports, the police has detained hundreds of workers who engaged in a road roko in front of the District Collectorate in Coimbatore. However, police officials were not available for a comment on the detention.