(Eds: Updates with details of HC’s interim order) Chennai, Jan 5 (PTI) Hours after the Madras High Court ordered them to call of their two-day old strike, which has caused hardship to public, transport corporation unions today said their agitation would continue till their demands on wage revision were met by the Tamil Nadu government.
The unions, including DMK-affiliated LPF and CITU, rejected the state government’s ultimatum to return to work or face ‘consequences’, issued following the court directive.
“There will be an interim order restraining the transport workers, specially, the drivers and conductors, from taking recourse to strike,” the court said.
Any worker refraining from attending to work or performing duty shall do so at their own risk of the consequences thereof including “termination of their services and penalisation for gross contempt of this court,” the court order said.
Claiming that they had not received the court order, the unions, which have rejected the wage increase proposed by the government, said they would present their case properly before the court on Monday.
The indefinite strike by the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) workers since last night affected people in various parts of the state, even as the government said it was taking efforts to maintain the bus services.
Office-goers and students bore the brunt of the strike by employees owing allegiance to 17 unions.
High court first bench headed by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee said workers could not resort to such flash strikes without any prior intimation, causing trouble to public.
Taking a serious view of the strike called by certain unions, it said the workers should get back to work or “face consequences”, including termination and contempt of court.
The bench, hearing of a PIL seeking a direction to the state government to end the strike by holding talks, said it was the duty of the state to ensure and protect rights of its citizens during such circumstances.
It ordered notices to the trade unions and posted the PIL to January 8 for further hearing.
Hours later, state Transport Minister M R Vijayabaskar issued the ultimatum to the employees to resume work or face action and reiterated that the present wage agreement was ‘unprecedented’ in many aspects.
“I request the employees and trade unions who are involved in this unnecessary strike to realise the factual situation and get back to work as per the court directive,” he said.
Reading out a statement before reporters here, he said the government had proposed a “very good” wage revision agreement despite financial issues faced by the transport corporations.
“If (the transport staff) continue with the protest and cause trouble to people, the government will not hesitate to take action as per law against them,” he added.
He also said that instances of striking employees ‘intimidating’ others who wanted to work had been reported.
General Secretary of DMK-backed LPF, M Shanmugam, said they were not worried about action from the government since any protest would attract action.
CITU leader A Soundarrajan said he felt the court had not heard their side and that the unions will put forth their views on Monday before the bench.
Asked if the strike will then continue till Monday, Shanmugam shot back saying “it will continue. It will continue till our problems end.”
He also said they have not received any communication from the court about ending their strike.
Responding to the government warning of action, Sounderrajan said it did not befit the former and insisted that it should opt for talks to end the stalemate.
He expressed regret over the hardship being caused to people in the wake of the strike.
Earlier, Chief Minister K Palaniswami chaired a meeting of ministers and senior officials to take stock of the situation, even as opposition parties including the DMK and the Left, besides actor Kamal Haasan, urged the government to end the stalemate by holding talks with trade unions.
Sounderrajan, who participated in talks with government yesterday, today claimed that “not even 10 per cent” of buses were being operated across the state.
Further, seven unions joined the strike today, taking the number to 17, he told reporters here.
Ten unions had announced launching the strike yesterday after collapse of talks on wage revision.
The striking unions wanted the ‘factor’ for revision to be fixed at 2.57 times while government insisted it be 2.44.
Officials said buses were being run by utilising services of workers affiliated to ruling AIADMK-backed union ATP.
However, reports received here said a large number of vehicles were off the road in different parts of the state like Chennai, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam and Madurai.
The government has invited those possessing valid driving licences to approach local bus depots to be used as substitute drivers. Besides, private buses were also roped in to meet the situation at several places.
Police have been posted at bus depots to prevent any untoward incidents.
Following the strike, commuters alleged over-charging by autos and private buses even as scores opted for suburban rail services in Chennai.
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.