In Mamata Banerjee’s rule in West Bengal, state government employees are having a rough time. Not only have the dearness allowance and other dues of the regular employees been withheld, the usual salary and pension of the employees of the state PSUs are being delayed for months together. The convenient plea has been acute fund crunch left over by the previous LF government. Driven by extreme desperation, one transport employee had to commit suicide because of inordinate delay in payment of wages.
The latest onslaught on the employees has been the highhanded approach adopted by the WB government to thwart the general strike on 28th February. A veritable reign of terror was unleashed on the employees to scare them away from participating in the strike. The Government initially issued a radiogram on the eve of the strike stating that no leave would be granted for absence on the strike day. The Chief Minister went to the extent of threatening the employees that if they participate in the strike, “they would be taught such a lesson that they would not dare to participate in any strike in future.”
In the face of this threat and in the absence of a resolute leadership to motivate and mobilize them into the strike, a large number of employees had to attend office on the strike day, albeit reluctantly. Still, quite a good number did participate in the strike and abstained from work on the strike day.
After the strike, the government issued another Memorandum directing the Heads of Offices to issue Show Cause notice to the concerned employees who were absent on 28.02.2012 asking them to explain why action would not be taken against them for such unauthorized absence in violation of the earlier circular. After receipt of reply, leave was directed to be granted only on production of documentary evidence in certain stipulated cases, e.g.hospitalisation, bereavement in the family, severe illness and absence continuing from before, employees who had been on sanctioned leave continuing from before and compelling reasons of similar nature, except dislocation of traffic, which would not be accepted as a reason. Where absence is not covered by any of the above, no-work-no pay would come into force, and no salary would be admissible for that day. Those who do not respond to the show cause notice would be liable to disciplinary action. Even the school and college teachers of government-aided institutions were not spared.
Faced with such a situation and finding that the mainstream employees’ organizations predominantly influenced by the CPI(M) did not come forward to organize resistance against such repressive measures of the government, the AICCTU together with “Paschimbanga Rajya Sarkari Sangrami Karmi Samannay”, a struggling forum of the employees, organized a Mass Convention against this attack on the TU rights and right to strike of the state government employees on 20th March at the Students Hall, College Square, Kolkata, where all the Left employees’ organizations along with some leading legal personalities were invited. Wide campaign was carried out to mobilize the employees in the convention and wide interaction with the employees was undertaken.
The Convention evoked much response among the employees and was attended by almost all the unions of the employees who believed in right to strike, including all the major teachers’ organizations in the state. However, the notable absentee was the Co-ordination Committee of State Government Employees’ Organizations, which is backed by the CPI(M) and have the majority of the employees in their roll. The Convention was conducted by a presidium consisting of Rajarshi Das Gupta, Dibakar Bhattacharya an Anjan Biswas. All the participating organizations hailed the timely move, supported the views expressed in the approach paper and assured to take part in any joint move to take the fight forward.
Supreme Court lawyer and human rights activist Colin Gonsalves and distinguished labour lawyer and ex-Mayor of Kolkata Bikash Bhattacharya were also present in the Convention. Gonsalves asserted that the government employees of West Bengal do have a legal right to strike in view of the WB Services (Duties, Rights and Obligations) Rules, 1980, and the employees should not have any confusion about that. However, he stressed that government employees have participated in innumerable number of strikes, and only by doing so could they establish their right to strike. The Railway workers’ strike in 1974 and the Tamil Nadu government employees’ strike in 2003 are ample testimony to that. The governments which let loose untold repression on the striking employees were ultimately thrown away by the people in the hustings. Bikash Bhattacharya, a leader of the CPI(M), attended the Convention and emphasized that the employees would have to unite to fight this onslaught on their rights. He assured to take up the case of the victims, if any, in the court of law. Speaking on behalf of the organizers of the Convention, Atanu Chakraborty said, attack on the workers and the employees is all-out today, and the employees’ movement needed to launch a resistance.
The Convention adopted a unanimous decision to form a Joint Campaign Committee to carry forward the campaign for rights of the employees, which would sit together shortly to chalk out the next course of action.