People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 04, 2007
Massive Strike By Central Govt Employees
K K N Kutty
AROUND 12 lakh central government employees along with millions of state government employees and several lakhs of school and university teachers in the country went on a day’s token strike on October 30, 2007.
The main issues on which the strike was organised are (a) Scrapping the new contributory pension scheme (b) grant of Rs 1000 as interim relief to central government employees (c) ending discrimination on compassionate appointments (d) reducing prices of essential commodities (e) affording right to strike to government employees (f) stopping the indiscriminate downsizing, privatisation of governmental organisations (g) raising the rate of interest on Provident Fund and small savings instruments; (h) raising the Bonus ceiling etc.
The strike has been reported to be total in Kerala, West Bengal, North Eastern states (Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur), Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Maharashtra and wide-spread in Karnataka Madya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajastan, Jharkhand, Chattisgrah, Uttar Pradesh, Uttaranchal, North West Region, comprising of Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Chandigarh, Delhi.
Despite serving the strike notice on September 19, 2007, the government of India had unfortunately chosen not to respond and no discussion took place till a day before the strike. On the question of interim relief the stand taken by both the 6th Central Pay Commission and the government had been absolutely unjustifiable especially in the background that the government did grant interim relief to the officers of Oil Sector, when they threatened to go on strike.
The grant of interim relief was an issue that was referred to the 6th Central Pay Commission (CPC) by the government as part of its terms of reference. We had, with facts and figures, brought to the notice of the 6th CPC that the wage differential at the minimum level even as per the 5th CPC devised formula was more than Rs 2600. In the light of that the employees had demanded payment of Rs 1000 as Interim Relief. The CPC did not submit a report on interim relief to the government and the employees were denied the wage increase for the past 22 months, whereas the government granted interim relief to the officers of the Oil Sector on the threat of a strike action.
New Contributory Pension Scheme
Despite the fact that the PFRDA Bill introduced by the government to convert the existing defined benefit pension scheme into a contributory one is still to be passed by the parliament, the government has gone ahead to implement the provisions of the bill – without any legal ground – in respect of the employees recruited after 1.1.2004. This has created an invidious discrimination in the matter of pay and allowances between the employees recruited prior to and after 1.1.2004. In the case of those recruited after 1.1.2004 they are perforce to contribute 10 per cent of their salary for earning pension, which amounts to a virtual wage cut.
Right to strike
As to why the central government employees are denied the TU right and the right to strike despite the prescription enshrined in Article 309 of the Constitution for the last 57 years is inexplicable. The various court pronouncements denying the said right to strike to government employees is the direct consequence of the refusal on the part of the government to introduce legislation in the parliament to replace the existing obnoxious rules framed on the lines of the rules made by the erstwhile colonial rulers.
There had been phenomenal reduction in the workforce under the government since 1991. This is not only because the government has chosen to shed some of its functions (without any genuine reasoning) but also due to its arbitrary decision of not filling up the vacancies and abolishing 2/3rd vacancies year after year since 2001. Presently 20-25 per cent of the workforce are contingent/casual/daily rated/contract employees who are paid abysmally low level wages not even capable of sustenance. All downsizing exercises are being carried out without causing any discussion with the staff side even though the cabinet secretary on more than one occasion had issued directive to the ministries and departments to do so.
Whatever might be the official figures on the rate of inflation, the ground reality is the exhorbitant rise in the price of essential commodities, which has made the life of the common man and the low paid workers in acute distress. Under the new dispensation, the government employees are totally precluded from the purview of the Public Distribution System and even the Kendriya Bhandars and Super Markets have been closed down. No attempt is being made to stabilise the prices of essential commodities like cereals, pulses and vegetables etc.
The discrimination in the matter of compassionate appointment in respect of employees in departments other than Railways continues despite the solemn assurance given by the cabinet secretary and the agreement reached on 15.2.2006 at the standing committee meeting. The department of personnel dilly dallies the issue in removing the cap of 5 per cent instituted without any rhyme or reason.
Privatisation of CGHS
The CGH scheme is said to be replaced by the medical insurance, which if done would put lakhs of central government employees and pensioners in extreme difficulties in so far as health care is concerned. Rates of various clinical and pathological tests and surgical operations have been reduced drastically with the result that no hospital presently admits a government employee for treatment. The concerted efforts to weaken the CGHS is nothing but a prologue to winding up/privatising the CGHS.
The sixteen awards of the Board of Arbitration brought back to the negotiating table have been discussed at various fora on many occasions without reaching any finality for the last one and half years. This is despite the offer of the staff side to substantially reduce the financial liability on each of the said award.
Bonus ceiling, which has now been raised by the government has not been made applicable to the government employees. This apart the question of replacing the adhoc bonus with a scheme of PLB was one of the recommendations of the 5th Central Pay Commission. Without taking any decision on the said recommendation after several rounds of discussions, the government has again referred the matter to the 6th CPC without holding out any assurance that its recommendations would be accepted.
Judicial committee for the GDS
If the government constitute a judicial committee to look into the grievances of the GDS employees in 1994 as a corollary to the setting up of the 5th CPC why it refuses to do so now is incomprehensible. It is pertinent to point out in this connection that the government had agreed to refer the wage revision issue of GDS either to the 6th CPC or to a separate judicial committee in the wake of a strike decision of the postal employees. That commitment was not honoured and the government has refused to budge from its avowed position has become a matter for serious concern for the ED employees. They have no belief in the impartiality and efficacy of the mechanism devised by the government in looking into their grievance.
Rate of interest
The interest rates of provident fund was slashed by the government earlier on the ground that the market rate of interest has come down drastically. Now that the market rate has gone up the government ought to have raised the interest rate of provident fund accumulation. The very fact that the rate of interst for GPF is even less than the rates provided for in the case of Employees Provident Fund scheme, is indicative of the discriminative treatment in this matter. The government should restore the interest rate to 12 per cent immediately. The pensioners who eke out a living by investing their hard earned retirement benefits in small savings instruments have been hard hit by the abnormal reduction of interest rates.