As a strike that has virtually crippled Tamil Nadu’s state-run bus service continued for the fifth day, the Madras High Court on Monday again asked the employees to resume work and told the government not to sack any striker.
Tens of thousands of commuters continued to be affected across the sprawling state as employees of road transport corporations intensified their strike for better wages, triggering fears that a prolonged protest may affect the upcoming Pongal festival.
The strikers have ignored appeals from both the government and the High Court to end their work stoppage. The government has started hiring temporary drivers in a desperate bid to put the buses back on the roads.
On Monday, the High Court reiterated its order asking the striking workers to join duties at the earliest but also told the government not to dismiss them from service without its consent.
Chief Justice Indira Banerjee and Justice Abdul Quddhose said they could not vacate the ban on the strike as school students, daily wagers and other poor people were badly hit.
But the judges also asked the retirement why benefits and arrears due to employees were not paid and asked the government to address their genuine grievances.
The workers vowed to continue the strike.
Tamil Nadu State Transport Employees Federation President A. Soundarrajan urged the government to invite the unions for talks to settle the issue before Pongal festivities next week.
He said the strike was peaceful and would continue till the government accepted their demands.
The government claimed to have operated nearly half of the buses across the state. But the situation remained grim.
DMK leader M.K. Stalin said the situation was turning worse and asked the government to invite the strike leaders for talks.
“The government appears unconcerned about people’s suffering,” he said.
Rebel AIADMK faction spokesperson C.R. Saraswathi too lashed out at the government, saying it should not have allowed the situation to deteriorate like this.
“The CM must begin talks with unions and clear the issue,” she said. “Amma would never have allowed the situation to develop like this.”