February 25, 2021 4:25:28 pm
Hundreds of commuters, including school and college students, bore the brunt of the indefinite strike launched by Tamil Nadu Transportation Union on Thursday.
Over one lakh workers, affiliated to nine trade unions, participated in the strike against non-conclusion of wage talks and demanding clearance of provident fund and dues of retired workers, among others.
While nearly 50 per cent buses plied in the state capital during the early hours, the number of government buses in several districts was abysmally low. In Dharmapuri district, only 193 of a total fleet of 343 buses were available for service. In Madurai’s Usulampatti town, just 14 of 86 buses were pressed into service. The situation was similar in other districts such as Nagercoil, Tiruchy, Thanjavur, Cuddalore and Tiruvannamalai. Many buses remained anchored at the bays and some of the bus stations wore a deserted look.
Due to the non-availability of government buses, commuters were in a rush to board the private buses that were available. There were complaints of over-charging and over-crowding as passengers scrambled to climb onto these vehicles.
The striking unions, including the DMK-affiliated LPF, CITU, AITUC and INTUC, have also sought pending terminal benefits of workers who retired last year and non-allocation of funds in the budget to compensate for the losses incurred by transport undertakings.
The unions further claimed that the 13th wage contract expired on September 1, 2019 and a revision has been due for over the last couple of years. The strike saw participation of employees representing eight transport undertakings, including Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) which operates public buses in Chennai.
The AIADMK government on Wednesday had sounded confident of ensuring minimal impact of the strike on public transportation service. Transport Minister MR Vijayabhaskar had said workers aligned to Anna Thozhir Sangam, the trade union backed by the ruling party, will work as usual with support from fellow members.
Vijayabhaskar had also announced allocation of Rs 536 crore for the settlement of retirement benefits of employees who left the service between January and April, 2020. After holding discussions with Chief Minister K Palaniswami on Wednesday, the minister said, “We paid Rs 972 crore last month to employees who retired between April and December 2019. With this, we have paid for the retiral benefits of all the employees.”
Speaking to IETamil.com, Labour Progressive Federation treasurer K Natarajan said the interim relief of Rs 1,000 per month announced by the transport minister is not adequate to resolve the issues faced by the employees.
“It has been two years since the government held talks with us. We placed our demands before the government and committees were formed to initiate talks. We even held a meeting with the transport minister but there was no progress. The election is around the corner, we cannot do anything once the poll dates are announced. It will take another five months for a new government to invite us for negotiations and to avert these hurdles, we have launched the strike and it will not be withdrawn till all our demands are met,” Natarajan said.
In a measure of relief for commuters earlier on Thursday, the Chennai Metro Rail Limited (CMRL) announced that it will run rakes every five minutes, from 7 am to 11 am and from 4 pm to 8 pm, to soften the impact of the transport strike. It added that additional trips would be enabled during non-peak hours depending on passenger flow.
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