An attack on unions

Published : Sep 12, 2003 00:00 IST

NORMALCY returned to the government offices and the educational institutions in Tamil Nadu with the reinstatement of all but 6,072 government employees and teachers in accordance with the orders of the Supreme Court, which, however, held their strike in the first week of July illegal. A couple of days after the court directive came, the government ordered the reinstatement of 8,063 employees (over 1.5 lakh dismissed employees had been reinstated a week earlier). It also converted the punishment imposed on 2,215 Secretariat employees and 534 officials from dismissal to suspension as ordered by the court. Three retired Judges of the Madras High Court, Justices K. Sampath, P. Thangavel and Malai Subramanian, were appointed to adjudicate on the petitions of the 6,072 government employees and teachers who were dismissed and charged with offences under the Tamil Nadu Essential Services Maintenance Act (TESMA) as amended by an Ordinance.

Even while doing this, the government, already armed with the amended TESMA and the "appreciation" it got from the highest court of the land for the "firmness" with which it handled the strike, tightened the noose around the employees, who had already lost many of their rights and privileges, and also their unions by announcing some new measures.

The first major attack was against the service associations/organisations. The government announced on August 12 that it had withdrawn the recognition to these associations on the grounds that they "violated the provisions of the Tamil Nadu Government Servants Conduct Rules by conducting lunch-hour demonstrations, picketing, token strike and indefinite strike". Significantly, the associations concerned were not given the mandatory hearing before the withdrawal of recognition. Trade union and political leaders have condemned the government's action.

The second government step targeted employees of the Secretariat. The government has appointed a high-level committee, with Home Secretary S.M. Hoda as the convener, to revamp the functioning of the nerve centre of the State administration, for the ostensible purpose of establishing accountability and ensuring a work culture that is responsive to the needs of the public. But the real motive is to bring the employees under closer scrutiny. Some of the measures contemplated include making their jobs transferable, outsourcing part of Secretariat work, and keeping a watch on the employees' movements. The government has announced its intention to slash the number of annual holidays and increase the working hours.

At the political level, the government has initiated steps to prosecute former Chief Minister and DMK president M. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu Congress Committee working president E.V.K.S. Elangovan, CPI(M) State secretary N. Varadarajan and CPI State secretary R. Nallakannu under TESMA for instigating, through their statements, the government employees to go on strike. The police have filed a first information report on a complaint from the Secretary (Public).

A massive demonstration was held in Chennai on August 22 to protest against the government action.

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