Take back strike
Deccan Herald: Jan 1, 2014:
There are ominous forebodings of a disruptive railway strike in the near future, with a large majority of the workers and staff of the organisation voting in favour of an indefinite strike in a ballot held last week. More than 95 per cent of the employees favoured a strike in the ballot held by the all India railwaymen’s federation which represents three-fourths of the workforce.
Other unions are preparing to hold ballots in the coming days. The unions have threatened to go on strike before the general elections and this is obviously because they feel they can get the demands accepted in a politically sensitive time when the government will be most vulnerable. This is the first major strike threat by the railway employees after the major strike of 1974 which had a serious economic and political impact on the country.
The major demands include scrapping of the new pension scheme, setting up of the seventh pay commission, removal of pay anomalies, filling up vacant posts, creation of more posts to meet the increasing workload and improvement of working conditions. Some of these are legitimate and can be negotiated, but demands like abolishing the new pension system, which covers all central government staff, are clearly unreasonable. Scrapping of the new pension system will trigger similar demands from other sectors. Filling up vacant posts and improving working conditions will only help the railways and will not have an immediate financial impact. Reports that over one lakh posts of safety personnel are vacant prove that action is needed to improve the working of the railways. It should also be noted that some of these demands are pending for a long time. There is only a small window of time for talks and decisions on the demands because they have to be made before the code of conduct for elections comes into force in February.
The railways have the biggest organised workforce in the country and they play a major role in the economy. The economy is showing signs of recovery now and a strike will certainly cripple it and set it back. Pressing for acceptance of demands should not amount to blackmailing the government and the nation, because national interests are involved in the smooth working of the railways. Ideally demands that have major long-term financial implications may be left to the new government to handle. The railway unions should refrain from forcing a national crisis at a crucial time.
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