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Workers' Strike Hits Transport Services, Banks

Transport services were disrupted across India on Friday and state-run banks and insurance companies were shut as more than a million workers went on a strike, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pursuing anti-labour policies

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Transport services were disrupted across India on Friday (02 September) and state-run banks and insurance companies were shut as more than a million workers went on a strike, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pursuing anti-labour policies.

Trade unions backed by communist parties and the main opposition Congress said a government decision to raise minimum wages for unskilled workers did not go far enough and there was no social security or pensions for millions who were outside the organised sector.

The workers are also opposed to the Modi government's decision to open up the railways and defence sectors to greater foreign direct investment, which they say is a way to undermine state firms.

Workers in various places waved red flags and picketed outside government offices, blocked trains and roads with burning tyres and shouted slogans against the government.

In New Delhi, nurses went on strike at government hospitals and courted arrest in support of higher wages, disrupting services.

"We have been putting forward our demands for the last five years. But over the last year no minister has even met the trade unions," said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), one of 10 groups boasting a combined membership of 180 million workers that called the strike.

Since the Modi government took office in 2014, it has taken a series of incremental steps to make labour laws less onerous for businesses and attract foreign investment.

But fear of a union-led backlash has made the Indian leader leave the responsibility for unshackling the labour market with states. He let his party's governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh states take the lead in this area.

Hundreds of workers staged a demonstration in Chennai, home to global auto firms in support of the strike while in Srikakulam, in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, strikers clashed with police trying to stop them marching on government buildings.

Bus and train services were operated as usual while shops and business establishments remained open. Educational institutions are functioning normally.

The ruling AIADMK's labour wing is not participating in the strike called by ten central unions protesting "anti-worker" changes in labour laws and the Centre's "indifference" to their demands for better wages.

The striking union members staged demonstrations at various places raising slogans in support of their demands.

A Madurai report said the strike did not affect normalcy in most parts of southern districts of the state.

Central government offices wore a deserted look with the employees joining the strike while section of state government employees, especially in the revenue department, are also participating in the strike.

In Odisha, protesters came on roads and railway tracks affecting the traffic movement all over the state.

Train services were affected as trade union activists staged rail roko by holding sit-in on tracks at many places including Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Berhampur, Sambalpur, Bhadrak, Balasore, Jaleswar, Keonjhargarh and Rayagada, police said.

Over two dozen passenger and express trains were delayed at different railway stations as the rail roko continued for some time, they said adding goods trains were also stranded at several places.

Vehicular movement came to a halt with buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws and other vehicles keeping off the roads with supporters of the strike staging road blockade at many places including highways by burning tyres and putting hurdles, police said.

While shops and other business establishments downed their shutters, some educational institutions, banks and insurances offices remained closed. Government offices recorded thin attendance in several places as union activists staged picketing to enforce the strike.

In the state capital of Bhubaneswar, major roads wore a deserted look with vehicles refraining from plying though some two-wheelers were seen in some areas. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and other ministers went to the secretariat amidst tight security cover, they said.

Work in Paradip port and industrial units in the port town remained largely unaffected as special arrangements had been made to ensure operations though reduced attendance was witnessed, sources said.

The strike did not have much impact in West Bengal till late morning hours as transport services functioned normally.

Government buses and other private vehicles were operating normally on the roads, officials said.

Train services at Sealdah and Howrah sections, and Metro Rail services were also as usual. However, the rush of passengers was less.

"So far, there has been no major incidents, except a few small incidents in some districts," said a senior police official.

In Kolkata, seven persons were arrested for trying to enforce the strike forcefully.

CITU-led Left trade unions claimed that the strike is going on peacefully and accused Trinamool Congress (TMC) of trying to incite violence at some places.

"The people of the state have willingly participated in the strike. In most of the places it is peaceful but in certain areas TMC is using its muscle power to break the strike," CITU State President Shyamal Chakraborty told PTI.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said while leaving for Italy, "The strike will be a complete failure in the state. I will be monitoring the entire work personally. Even though I will be out of the state but I will monitor the situation. My appeal to everybody is to reject the strike for the development of the state."

The ruling TMC, which is opposing the strike, is celebrating Singur Divas throughout the state in order to counter the strike today.

"The people of Bengal have already rejected this obsolete strike culture. People are busy celebrating Singur Divas," TMC Secretary General Partha Chatterjee told PTI.

Banerjee yesterday said there will be no 'bandh' in the state and warned of strong action against those who disrupt public life.

Banerjee said her government is also planning to introduce a new law under which those who ransack and damage property during 'bandh' will have to pay compensation.

The Left Trade unions, however, challenged the government to foil the strike and accused TMC of planning to incite violence in the state in the garb of observing 'Singur Divas'.

To protest against the government's "indifference" to their demands for better wages and facilities and the "anti-worker" changes in labour laws, all major central trade unions, excluding RSS-associated Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh, have joined the strike call.

In Bihar, normal life was affected with autorickshaw and other public vehicles off the road while banks remained closed.

As public transport was not available, passengers, particularly alighting from trains, had a harrowing time reaching their destination.

Schools recorded thin attendance of students while government as well private sector employees also had tough time reaching offices in the absence of proper public transport.

Reports from districts said the agitators disrupted train services in Begusarai and Jehanabad among others.

Banks remained shut as part of the strike called by central trade unions, excluding RSS-associated BMS, to protest against the Centre's "indifference" towards their demands for better wages and facilities and the "anti-worker" changes in labour laws.

Reports reaching from different parts of Bihar said banks of major cities like Patna, Munger, Bhagalpur, Hajipur, Muzaffarpur, Purnea, Chapra, Arrah, Biharsharif, Katihar, Begusarai, Samastipur and Gopalganj remained closed.

Bank employees organised rallies in various parts of the state, B Prasad, president of Bank Empployees's Federation, Bihar, said in a statement.

In many parts of Bihar, the protesters held dharna and took out processions.

In Karnataka, the strike called by 10 central trade unions evoked a mixed response.

While the state-run transport buses remained off the roads causing inconvenience to office-goers and those travelling to distant places, shops, establishments, markets and hotels functioned normally.

Though some auto and cab unions had announced their support for the bandh, their movement was by and large normal in Bengaluru. Metro services are also functioning normally.

Keeping safety of students in mind, authorities in various districts have declared holiday for school and college goers.

Police have made elaborate security arrangements in the state to avoid any untoward incident. In Bengaluru police personnel have been deployed across the city.

Demonstrations are being held by trade unions across the state. At a march held in the city, protesters with banners marched from Town hall to Freedom Park here shouting slogans against government policies.

The unions have called the protest against the central government's "indifference" to their demands for better wages and facilities and "anti-worker" changes in labour laws.

Services including banking and public transport were hit in Haryana, Punjab and UT Chandigarh with employees of various government departments joining one-day nationwide strike to protest against "anti-labour" policies of the government.

Employees of departments like roadways, electricity, health, corporations held demonstrations at various places in Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. At some places, employees claimed the district administration "forcefully" asked roadways employees to ply buses.

The government departments had already warned protesting employees to enforce 'no work no pay' policy and had set up control rooms to lodge complaint.

At prestigious health institution Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), various planned surgeries were today postponed in the wake of around 2,000 nurses joining the nationwide strike call given by All India Government Nurses Federation.

Public transport services were hit in Punjab and Haryana with roadways employees participating in the strike call, causing inconvenience to passengers.

"There is a complete strike in Haryana as roadways buses are not plying, barring few ones at some places," Haryana Roadways Workers Union, General Secretary, Dharamveer Hooda said.

"Employees are protesting at all the 24 depots in the state," he said adding that the state roadways had fleet of 4,200 buses.

However, he accused Jind district administration of resorting to lathicharge at protesting roadways employees so as to resume bus services. "But we have not allowed to run the buses," he said.

A report from Hisar and Kaithal in Haryana said public transport remained paralysed, forcing passengers to use private vehicles to reach their destinations.

A large number of passengers could be seen stranded at Hisar, Hansi, Uklana , Barwala, Adampur and other bus stands.

Almost all offices at mini secretariat here looked deserted as government employees did not join their duties.

A report from Phagwara in Punjab said while Punjab roadways buses were also off the road, PRTC buses were seen plying.

A staff member of Punjab Roadways said they will remain on strike from 10 am to 2 pm. Roadways buses were seen parked inside the main Bus stand opposite National highway-I.

In Kerala, public transport vehicles stayed off the roads and shops and business establishments were closed.

Autorickshaws, taxies, Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) and private buses are not plying on roads across the state with the workers of various unions taking part in the strike.

Train passengers had a tough time as they had to walk to their homes after alighting at the railway station here.

However, police helped patients coming to the Regional Cancer centre in the capital by arranging transport.

All major unions, barring RSS-associated BMS (Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh), have joined the strike, terming as "completely inadequate" the Central government's assurances to look into their demands and the recent announcements for two-year bonus and hike in minimum wage.

This is the first major strike in Kerala after the CPI(M) led LDF government came to power in May this year.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has courted controversy after expressing support to the strike on Facebook with BJP hitting out against him.

VSSC officials said employees of Indian Space Research Organisation's units here were stranded at the bus bay at Pattom here.

Three convoys of buses, which were to carry employees from different localities, could not leave as strike supporters laid siege of the bus bay of ISRO units at Pattom here.

About 6,000 odd employees of the VSSC in Thumba, ISRO Inertial Systems unit, a R&D unit of ISRO at Vattiyoorkavu, Liquid Propulsion systems centre (LPSC) and Indian Institute of Space Science Engineering college at Valliamala have been held up, sources said.

The union leaders led by former CPI(M) MLA, V Sivankutty staged a dharna in front of the bus bay this morning preventing employees from getting into the buses.

"Not a single bus has left the Pattom station since 7 AM this morning. We are not sure when the convoys will ply," a VSSC official said.

In the past 15-20 years, we were never affected due to strikes as employees used to get transport arrangements, the official said.

Some vehicles of Technopark employees were also blocked.

(Agencies)