CHENNAI: Tamil Nadu is bracing itself for a potentially crippling public transport strike it has not witnessed in over a decade, after multiple rounds of talks between the government and transport trade unions on Sunday failed to resolve some of the key demands of workers. State transport corporation workers will go on an indefinite strike from Monday.
Thousands of workers from all major unions, barring the ATP affiliated to the ruling AIADMK, will stay away from work. The demands of the workers include disbursal of long-pending pension arrears that now amounts to a whopping Rs 1,650 crore.
A taste of things to come was witnessed in parts of the State, including Coimbatore, Tirupur, the Nilgiris, Erode, Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Chennai, where a number of drivers and conductors did not report for Sunday afternoon shift, catching both officials and passengers unawares.
During the last ditch effort to stop the workers from going on strike, the government team led by transport minister M R Vijayabaskar told the union leaders who attended the negotiations at Pallavan House that the government would pay the pension arrears in tranches. But union leaders refused to accept an oral assurance and sought a formal order, which was not coming.
“When word spread that talks failed and that the government was adamant, the drivers took a spontaneous decision to strike work,” K K Natarajan, treasurer of DMK-affiliated Labour Progressive Federation, told Express, explaining why the strike originally announced from Monday was advanced without notice.
Leaders alleged that workers were also provoked by the strong-arm tactics of the State, including deploying a large number of police personnel, who, they charged, intimidated protesting workers and detained and arrested them.
Commuters bore the brunt of the unannounced strike, as hundreds were left stranded at the bus stands in Vellore, Coimbatore and Chennai among other places. The hardship was particularly felt at places such as Nagapattinam, where the Velankanni Basilica attracts thousands of devotees every Sunday. Several of them were left waiting for hours together to return home.
It is expected to be much worse on Monday, when a good majority of over 20,000 buses belonging to the various State transport corporations are expected to remain idle. The strike was called by major transport unions, including LPF, CITU and AITUC, and claims to have the backing of 37 associations in all.
Barring the leaders, workers from even ATP would take part in the protest, said Arumugam Nainar, secretary, TN State Transport Employees Federation.