CHENNAI: Why are the public transport workers so determined to continue the strike?
The workers say the State government has failed for the last six years to deposit the deductions from their salaries in social security schemes such as Provident Fund.
As a result, several workers have been forced to rely on private moneylenders and pay usurious interest rates for emergency needs.
This, they say, is one of the main reasons for their determination to continue the strike so that they get a fair deal from the government. The monthly salary deductions towards LIC insurance and payment to cooperative society have also not been paid towards the schemes and hence the cooperative societies are denying loans to the workers.
“I have been paying Rs 6,000 a month towards interest for the past 26 months, (totally about Rs 1.44 lakh) for borrowing Rs 1.85 lakh from a private money lender for my daughter’s marriage in 2014. I had to take that loan because I was denied the loan based on my PF account by nationalised banks. The transport workers’ cooperative society also denied loan because the government was not depositing the money deducted from the workers’ salary for last six years,” said P Subramaniyan, who works as an MTC bus conductor at the Ayanavaram depot.
While he has been struggling to repay the Rs 1.85 lakh loan and paid nearly the principal amount as interest, the total amount deducted from his salary over years and is pending with the government is about Rs 11 lakh.
“We were told we are not eligible to personnel loans due to low wages. And we solely depend on the social security schemes including cooperative society funds. Even though I had enough money, I could not get it from the government. So, for my daughter’s marriage in 2015, I had no option but to take money from a private lender. Now I am not in a position to seek money for my son’s education,” he explained.
Many shared similar tales. Many workers who had ailing family members also could not get loan from the LIC as they were told their premiums had not been paid by the government for years.
“Six months ago, my wife developed breathing trouble and she has to undergo a surgery which would cost Rs 85,000. I did not have money and when I approached LIC, they said I am not eligible to the insurance cover since the premium had not been paid. But the government has also been deducting money for the insurance cover from my salary every month,” said Kannan, who is working as a bus driver. He too managed to meet the medical expenses by taking loans from private money-lenders and pawn-brokers.
The workers all agree that these issues have been cropping up only since 2010 when the government started diverting the money deducted from the salaries of the workers towards operation cost of the transport corporations.
The total amount due to workers, whose strength is over a lakh, is estimated to be around a whopping Rs 7,500 crore.
In 2013, it was agreed to hike the salaries by 5.5 percent. However, it was implemented only in 2015. The workers, who retired between 2013 and 2015, had been given the increased monthly salaries for more than 18 months. In addition, PF and pension settlement were also delayed for the workers who retired after 2013. Now, the dues and arrears for the in-service and retired staff accumulated upto Rs 7500 crore.
A Durairaj, who retired in 2015, received his pension only two years after his retirement through court order.
“My wife and I have been in deep depression for several months, as we have to depend on our daughter, even for paying auto fare. We lived literally like orphans,” he added.
Of the eight corporations, the condition of TNSTC retired workers is much worse, compared to those of MTC and SETC, as many have received their PF settlement nearly after 15 to 18 months as government had not settled their dues.
It may be recalled that in August 2016, K Natarajan, a retired worker of the Kovilpatti depot of TNSTC’s Tirunelveli division, committed suicide over the delay in getting retirement benefits. Subsequently, an MTC worker of Basin Bridge depot died owing to lack of funds for treatment a few months after his retirement. After the subsequent cases in Madras High Court, the government started to disbursing pension benefits through 12 instalments.
Apart from the wage increase up to 2.55 multiplication factor, transport workers demanded that the government give proper answer to the question how and when they are going to settle the pending dues.