Thursday, June 16, 2016

Indian Railways' worker unions are preparing for nationwide strike from July 11

Sudheer Pal Singh | New Delhi June 16, 2016 
Image courtesy: Alstom

Indian Railways’ (IR’s) worker unions have expanded the scope of their protest by including a key reform initiative of the rail ministry in their agenda for agitation -- award of Rs 40,000 crore contracts for new locomotive factories to foreign entities GE and Alstom. A majority of the 1.3 million railway workers are preparing for the launch of an indefinite nationwide strike from July 11, drumming up support from regional units against the government’s “casual” approach towards their demands.

“This strike will be the biggest ever. We do not want a strike because of its negative impact on the nation and the industry but it is the last resort. We are ready to face all consequences,” Shiv Gopal Mishra, general secretary of the All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF), told this newspaper. “We have no political intentions and do not want a direct fight with the establishment but the government must talk to us responsibly.”

A rail ministry spokesperson did not respond to an e-mail seeking comments on the issue of a strike threat. IR's previous national strike was in May 1974, with participation from 1.7 million workers. It went on for around 20 days before it was suppressed.

The unions are demanding improving the minimum wage of Rs 18,000 per month for workers as computed by the seventh pay commission to around Rs 26,000 and rejecting all the “retrograde” recommendations of the panel. Another is to scrap the NPS and restoring the earlier one for railway workers. The government had last year set up a committee headed by the Cabinet secretary to look at the demands. “We have had at least two meetings with the committee. They do listen to us but cannot negotiate with us. The workers’ frustration is increasing,” said Guman Singh, president of the other union, National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR).

The other demands include scrapping the report of the Bibek Debroy committee report on mobilisation of resources, given last year, and withdrawing the notification that allowed Foreign Direct Investment into the sector. Unions allege the government has not looked at their demand for exemption from the NPS favourably, despite letters written by former railways minister Mallikarjun Kharge and the current one, Suresh Prabhu.

Prabhu had in a letter to finance minister Arun Jaitley in November last year said there was strong merit in reconsideration of the unions’ proposal to exempt railway workers appointed on or after January 2014 from the purview of NPS, unions said.

They'd earlier threatened to go on strike from April 11 but withdrew that decision after the Cabinet secretary-headed panel sought three months. The unions had on June 9 given a strike notice to the general managers of all the railway zones and heads of production units, based on a strike ballot conducted in February this year in which 95 per cent favored a strike. The unions are now chalking out a plan of action for protests till July 11.

Both NFIR and AIRF believe their protest has gained strength, with employees of other central departments joining against the pay panel’s recommendation. NFIR general secretary M Raghavaiah is also chairman of the National Joint Council for Action for all central government employees.

The latter had last week said the government’s response to the charter of demands given by government unions in December 2015 was disappointing and casual.

He said the organizations representing the 3.2 million central employees - Railways, Defence, Postal, Income Tax, Central Customs & Excise etc - had decided decision on 3 June to go on indefinite strike from 11 July.


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