People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
July 27, 2003
AISGEF Anguished Over SC Verdict
a statement issued from Kolkata on July 22 by its general secretary Sukomal Sen,
the All India State Government Employees’ Federation (AISGEF) expressed deep
concern and anguish over the Supreme Court of India’s verdict in the Tamil
Nadu employees’ case. The apex court has not only upheld the arbitrary
dismissal of about two lakh state government employees and teachers who took
part in the statewide strike beginning July 2, but even justified the most
autocratic repressive measures of the state government by terming the strike as
“illegal.” In its verdict on July 21, a division bench of Supreme Court also
stated that the “Jayalalitha government has sent a tough message that
mal-administration can be caused in this way.”
Terming the Supreme Court’s remarks as “most unfortunate,” the AISGEF said it was obviously an open support for the most vindictive action against the employees and teachers by the political leadership of the government and the bureaucracy. This action was intended to suppress a justified collective action by the employees and teachers for redressal of their grievances when all other means of a negotiated settlement had failed.
The Tamil Nadu government resorted to a drastic cut in the pension benefits and other dues of the employees and teachers, which they had earned through years of hard struggles.
The AISGEF expressed shock that, instead of striking down the draconian ordinance issued by the Tamil Nadu government to arbitrarily amend the Tamil Nadu Essential Service Maintenance Act 2002 at a time when the state assembly was in session, the apex court gave its strong approval to the state government’s unjustified action of dismissing more than two lakh employees and teachers, and chargesheeting about 2,500 employees on the plea of so-called ‘violence.’
At the same time, the Supreme Court judgement has also requested the state government to consider reinstating the dismissed employees except those chargesheeted --- on the condition that the dismissed employees and teachers tender an ‘unconditional apology’ for their action and give an undertaking not to resort to strike again. To the AISGEF, this is nothing but utterly humiliating the employees and adding insult to injury.
The AISGEF statement said the apex court’s assertion that the Indian constitution does not provide to the government employees a right to strike is nothing but justifying the Government of India Act 1935. This act was passed when the British raj treated the government employees of India as virtual slaves. While the imperialist government did so in India, back home the UK government allowed its employees the right to strike and even to contest elections on certain conditions, the AISGEF recalled.
In fact, the constitution of India does not say which sections of the workers are eligible for strike. Article 19 guarantees fundamental rights for all, and another article speaks of some restrictions which the central government and the state governments have to consider and decide. Accordingly, the central government and state governments framed conduct rules for government servants at the centre and in different states. The AISGEF statement asserted that the right to strike is a fundamental trade union right and that the Trade Union Act of 1926 and the Industrial Dispute Act of 1947 do deal with the right to form trade unions and collective bargaining by the workers.
The AISGEF said the working class of India, or throughout the world for that matter, has won its rights through struggles and sacrifices. Whether it is the industrial working class or government employees, they cannot forego their right to collective bargaining including the right to strike in furtherance of their legitimate interests, whatever may be the circumstances. In the present case, the strike in Tamil Nadu took place under compelling circumstances as the employees wanted to restore their hard-earned benefits that were arbitrarily cut down.
The International Labour Organisation, a tripartite body of the UN system, has accepted these rights in its conventions 87, 98 and 154. Its convention 151, which is meant for the public services, has specifically mandated that “Public employees shall have, as other workers, the civil and political rights which are essential for the normal exercise of freedom of association, subject only to the obligations arising from their status and the nature of the functions.”
The ILO’s convention is a tripartite decision between the government, employers and labour. As such, the government of India, a founder member of the ILO, cannot legitimately ignore it. Whether the government of India has ratified these conventions or not is a different matter. The AISGEF said the trade union movement has been demanding ratification of this convention by the government and will go ahead to assert its rights.
The AISGEF statement expressed the opinion that the attacks launched by the Tamil Nadu government on its employees and teachers is totally unprecedented in the history of India’s trade union movement.
The organisation has strongly urged that the Tamil Nadu government withdraw all victimisation, dismissals, chargesheets, etc, and restore the arbitrarily cut pensionary and other benefits to the employees and teachers.
The AISGEF has also urged upon all trade unions of the country and abroad to rise in strong protest against such virulent attacks on the trade union rights of the Tamil Nadu employees and teachers and to help restore the snatched-away economic benefits. This snatching has come in pursuit of the neo-liberal economic policy dictated by the World Bank-IMF, the statement said. (INN)