Nearly 150 million workers from 10 central trade unions went on strike on Wednesday against the government’s proposed labour reforms with the protest likely to shut down banks, factories as well as auto, taxi and flight services in many parts of the country.
The BJP-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) has pulled out of the daylong Bharat bandh that’ll oppose the Narendra Modi government’s plan to introduce sweeping amendments in labour laws to woo investments, curb rampant strikes, diminish the influence of trade unions and make the labour market more flexible.
“I appeal to them to reconsider the call of strike in the interest of the workers and the nation," labour and employment minister Bandaru Dattatreya told the media.
The 10 unions said in a joint statement they decided to go ahead with the protest after talks with a group of senior ministers headed by finance minister Arun Jaitley this month failed to produce a concrete agreement.
“The impact of the BMS pullout will be minimal on the strike on September 2. The decision of the BMS is political,” All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary Gurudas Dasgupta said at a conference this week.
Stringent labour laws are one of the thorniest issues facing the Modi government that’s pushing for industrial growth with the reforms expected to benefit millions of large and small-scale manufacturers across the country and generate thousands of jobs.
BMS general secretary Virjesh Upadhyay, however, told reporters that “a large number of public sector undertakings who are members of central trade unions are not going on strike”.
“Thus, services like power, oil and gas supply will not be affected. Big PSUs like NTPC, NHPC and PowerGrid will not observe strike tomorrow. Therefore, power supply will not be affected,” he said. There are 14 government-recognised central trade unions in India.
States were gearing up to ensure essential services remained unaffected because of the protest with the Congress and Left-ruled regions likely to bear the brunt of the shutdown.
In Kerala, chief minister Oommen Chandy’s office said government employees who do not report to work will lose their day’s salary while the state human rights commission urged that citizens’ interests must be protected.
Several local trade unions too are likely to participate in the strike in the Congress-ruled southern state.
The leader of a retailers’ association said the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government promised to provide compensation in case of any damage or loss to open shops during the bandh.
“Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today vowed to remain beside the traders in case we face any problem in keeping our shops open tomorrow.,” Ravindra Nath Koley, member of the task force on agricultural products price, said at the state secretariat after a meeting. “She also assured us police protection and compensation in case of any damage.”
Banerjee had said earlier she wanted to end the bandh and strike culture in Bengal and requested everyone to oppose the nationwide boycott called by the central trade unions.
BJP-ruled Goa assured residents that law and order would not be hit by the strike and adequate police protection would be provided to those unwilling to participate in the protest.
"We are prepared to ensure that the law and order situation is under control. No one would be allowed to force anyone to strike. If someone goes on strike, we will not force them too,” chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar told reporters.
Tourists arriving in the costal state could face hardships with taxi operators joining the strike to oppose the planned Road Transport Safety Bill 2014.
While auto and taxi services in Delhi are expected to be bruised by the demonstration, police in neighbouring Noida have pulled up their socks to thwart a repeat of a similar strike two years ago that sparked a wave of violence with widespread damage to public property.
“We are prepared to deal with any such situation. An additional company of PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) is available with us to deal with violent protesters,” said a senior police official. “The trade union leaders have been warned not to indulge in any violence and carry out the march peacefully.”