New Delhi: The UPA government could be staring at another crisis with two leading railways unions set to go on an indefinite nationwide strike in March after a majority of employees affiliated with them voted in favour of stopping work to push long-pending demands, such as scrapping new-pension scheme, end to hiring of contractual labour and outsourcing of jobs.
If the two unions indeed go ahead with the plan, it will be the first major strike in railways after the one in 1974 led by George Fernandes. That strike was crushed by the Indira Gandhi government, leading to widespread victimization and thousands losing their jobs.
One of the two unions – All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF) – has called a meeting of its general council on February 17 while the other – National Federation of Indian Railwaymen (NFIR) – will meeting on February 12 to decide on going on strike if the government and railways fail to meet their demands.
The unions are under pressure after more than 95% of workers associated with them voted for a strike in the secret ballot.
As a day of strike would cost railways around Rs 800 crore, the unions are in favour of a negotiated settlement. The railways is the largest employer in the country with over 13 lakh people on its rolls and moves more than 2.2 crore people and two million tonnes of cargo every day.
AIRF general secretary Shiv Gopal Mishra told that hectic negotiations with railway board were on.
Mishra said while the railways was serious about employees’ demands, finance ministry and government seemed to be reluctant.
While the demands include removing anomalies in the Sixth Pay Commission recommendation, sanction of addition posts in commensurate with additional workload and stopping of outsourcing of perennial jobs, the contentious demands are scrapping new pension scheme and stopping outsourcing and privatization.
NFIR had already written to the prime minister, finance minister, labour minister and railways to press for their demands before the coming vote on account in February.
“We are hoping that government will meet our demand before February 12 as there would be few cabinet meetings in this period,” said a NFIR spokesperson.
As strikes cause a huge disruption to the economy, Mishra said a decision to go on strike is tough, which is why the union decided to go for a ballot. “Nothing is better than negotiated settlement. We are going to general council meeting with open mind. We would go on strike if left with no other option is left,” he said.
The timing of the strike call is significant as unions are aware that UPA government would be under pressure with 2014 Lok Sabha polls are only few months away.
Since 1974, there have been two strike ballots, but no strikes. The strike ballot was held in 2006 demanding constitution of the Sixth Pay Commission. The issue was resolved after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Pay Commission.