New Delhi: Central trade unions, except the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS), have called for a nationwide strike on Wednesday, saying they are dissatisfied with the government's “policy and action” towards workers.
This is the fourth nationwide strike called by 10 central trade unions since the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government came to power in 2014. Nearly 25 crore people are expected to take part in this all-India strike to protest against the government's "anti-people" policies.
The unions have been calling for action on a list of demands, which they say have been ignored by the government.
Meanwhile, the government has asked public sector undertakings to dissuade their employees from participating in the strike and has advised them to prepare a contingency plan to ensure smooth functioning of the enterprises.
The strike will be carried out by various industrial trade unions, women’s and farmers’ collectives. This will be supported by Left parties and central trade unions. Those participating in the strike include All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS) and Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA).
The All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Labour Progressive Federation (LPF), United Trade Union Congress (UTUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Trade Union Coordination Centre (TUCC) will also take part.
Six bank unions will go on strike, affecting ATM and branch services. However, SBI and Syndicate Bank have assured smooth operation. Several banks have already informed stock exchanges about the strike and its impact on banking services.
Various bank employee associations, including All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), All India Bank Officers' Association (AIBOA), Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI), Indian National Bank Employees' Federation (INBEF), Indian National Bank Officers Congress (INBOC) and Bank Karmachari Sena Mahasangh (BKSM), have expressed their willingness to participate.
The workmen staff of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will also join the strike, said sources in its employees’ unions.
"The All India Reserve Bank Employees Association (AIRBEA) and All India Reserve Bank Workers Federation (AIRBWF) will join the strike in solidarity with the central trade unions," AIRBEA general secretary Samir Ghosh said on Tuesday.
Banking services like deposit and withdrawal, cheque clearing and instrument issuance are expected to be impacted. However, services at private sector banks are unlikely to be affected.
Other than banking, transport and other key services are also likely to be disrupted in many states.
What are the unions demanding?
The unions have a 13-point charter of demands, which includes urgent measures to contain price-rise by “universalisation of public distribution system” and “containing unemployment through concrete measures for employment generation”.
The retail inflation, measured in terms of the Consumer Price Index (CPI), rose to a three-year high of 5.54% in November 2019, due to higher food prices.
One of the key demands has been to increase the minimum wage of workers. While it is a long-standing demand -- unions have asked for monthly minimum wage to be set at Rs 15,000 for workers in the past -- they now demand the government to hike it to Rs 21,000.
Additionally, the unions have demanded ‘worker’ status to all scheme workers, such as the Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and those who work in providing mid-day meals in schools. Since these workers are not officially categorised as ‘workers’, they are not protected by most labour laws in the country.
The unions have asked for a minimum monthly pension of Rs 6,000, up from Rs 1,000. It had earlier demanded a minimum monthly pension of Rs 3,000. A six-time hike in the minimum pension to workers will require a huge budgetary support from the Union government – a key reason why it has not accepted any demand to hike the minimum pension as yet.
Other demands of the unions include a halt in the merger process of 12 public sector banks, no disinvestment and strategic sales of the central public sector units and bar on employing contract workers for ‘perennial nature of work’.
In a joint statement issued on Monday, the unions said, “The attitude of the government is that of contempt towards labour as we construe from its policies and actions. It is more than four years since the last Indian Labour Conference (ILC) was held in July 2015. The last meeting of the Group of Ministers constituted to discuss the 12-point charter of demands was held in August 2015. Since then nothing proceeded in that regard.”
(With inputs from PTI)