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Trade unions denounce SC ban on strikes
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Mumbai | August 06, 2003 19:22 IST
Last Updated: August 06, 2003 19:22 IST
The Supreme Court's order that government employees have no fundamental, legal or moral right to go on strike has raised the hackles of trade unions.
"Workers don't enjoy going on strike, but they are forced to do so when there is no option left with them," M S Upadhyaya, general secretary, General Insurance Employees' All India Association, said.
"The court is butchering the workers' rights. We never expected it to take such a stance. The court is just toeing the government line," he said.
Agreeing with Upadhyaya, Mahabal Shetty, president, Hind Mazdoor Kisan Panchayat - Maharashtra, said: "When workers observe a dharna (agitation), is anyone in the public bothered about why the workers are protesting. People only react when we go on strike. Workers also are members of the public. We don't like to harass the common man. But what can we do if our demands are not met?"
Asked what did he feel about the judgement, Shetty said: "We don't agree with this judgement. We will fight against the injustice. The right to go on strike is my natural right, just like the right to live. The court cannot tell us that we have no right to go on strike."
Recalling his past experience of strikes, Shetty said: "In 1963, when the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation workers went on strike, 5,000 workers were dismissed by the government. But in two years, they lost the case and each and every worker was taken back into service. In Tamil Nadu case also the courts told the government to take the workers back into the service. So that is a victory for the workers."
Shetty said that the new breed of Indian Administrative Service officers is 'very harsh with the workers.'
"These days, the new IAS officers have an attitude, as if their aim is to teach the workers a lesson. They assume that workers in government offices don't work. This is not true. There are public sector companies that are doing much better than many private companies, but nobody talks about that."
Sanjay Lazar, general secretary, Air-India Cabin Crew Association said, "Our union has not been on strike for the last 15 years. There are lots of peaceful means of striking that we have adopted. We wear black badges or demonstrate for 30 minutes so that people at large should not get affected. For us strike is the last resort."
Andhra government employees upset too
The Andhra Pradesh Non-Gazetted Officers Association, AP Trade Union Council and other staff associations and trade unions asserted the government or industrial employees have the right to strike work to press for their genuine demands and the Supreme Court cannot take away this 'fundamental right.'
Reacting to the Supreme Court's ruling that the government employees, under no circumstances, have any fundamental, legal or moral right to go on strike, the employees associations and trade unions have termed the verdict as 'unfortunate.'
"We are opposed to the Supreme Court judgement. We are going to launch an agitation against the court verdict after chalking out a joint action programme with all state government employees' associations, central government employees associations and the state and central public sector employees' unions, in the near future," B Subba Rao, general secretary, AP NGOs Association told rediff.com on Wednesday.
"We will discuss the implications of the Supreme Court judgement with the office-bearers of the Joint Action Committee of Employees, Teachers and Workers, which represents 10 lakh (1 million) state government employees in Andhra Pradesh. We are against the judgement since it takes away our rights. We will fight for the fundamental right of government employees to go on strike. We will also demand the central government to enforce this right of employees to go on strike to press for their genuine demands. We will fight against the governments which oppose the employees' rights," Subba Rao said.
AITUC state secretary K Srinivas Rao, echoing similar views, said that the Supreme Court judgement was unfortunate.
"In this instant case, the Supreme Court should not go only by legal provisions. The court should have taken a sympathetic view of the circumstances under which the Tamil Nadu government employees went on strike," he observed.
The AITUC leader agreed that there was a need for code of conduct for government employees but a blanket ban on strike was not needed.
"Under the provisions of Industrial Disputes Act, workers can go on strike by giving prior notice. Workers go on strike only when they are compelled to do so if the other party (management) does not agree for a settlement. How can this right be taken away," he asked.
Srinivas Rao said the government employees in Tamil Nadu were driven to go on strike by the Jayalalithaa government which even promulgated a draconian ordinance amending the Essential Services Maintenance Act.
"If the government withdraws the pecuniary benefits to the employees and refuses to take them into confidence, what is the way out and what is the remedy for them? The Tamil Nadu government employees had gone on strike only to protect their rights and they were not demanding extra benefits or further gains. They were protesting against the benefits withdrawn from them. Strike was the last resort for them. It is not understandable how could the Supreme Court have praise for TN government," he observed.
'We will fight at all levels'
Gurudas Gputa of the All India Trade Union Congress said that the judgement of the Supreme Court was totally unacceptable to the trade unions all over the country and they would fight for their right to go on strike.
" The SC judgement not only violates the spirit of the Constitution of India but it also violates the International Labour Organization charter, which gives workers a right to go on strike when all sources of redressal of their demands have been exhausted," Gurudas Gupta told rediff.com.
He said that the trade union movement is not going to accept the verdict of the apex court and they would launch a movement against it in September.
"Even if they had the Tamil Nadu strike at the back of their minds they cannot generalise the situation and make it applicable to one and all. We totally disagree with the judgement," he added.
P K Ganguly, of the Centre of Indian Trade Union, also opposed the judgement of the Supreme Court.
"Sometimes back the Kerala high court had also given a similar judgement and now it comes from the highest court of the land. Both the judgements violate the right of the workers to strike. We would fight the judgement at all levels," he argued.
A senior railway leader, however, thought that before resorting to strike on this issue the best course of action for the trade unions would be to file an appeal against the order before a bigger bench as it involves issues relating to the fundamental rights of the workers.
With inputs from Syed Amin Jafri in Hyderabad and Onkar Singh in New Delhi
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