New Delhi: The second day of the two-day strike called by India’s main trade unions to protest against the price rise and government policies was largely peaceful but public transport, banking and postal services were hit on Thursday.
Many auto factories, steel and textile mills and mines were shut due to the strike supported by the 11 trade unions that included the Congress party affiliated Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC).
Union leaders called the strike a success and said the government needs to act quickly to curb inflation, reduce the use of contract labour and reverse policy changes such as overseas investment in supermarkets.
“Over the last 48 hours, more than 100 million people participated in the strike across the country,” said A.K. Padmanabhan, president of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), a trade union affiliated to the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM).
Issues such as equal pay for equal work can be addressed by the government immediately without going to Parliament, he said. “Such issues are on hold for last few years.”
Banking services came to a standstill and 14 million cheques worth about Rs.80,000 crore were not processed in the last two days as clearing houses were closed, according to C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA).
“In all banks, including State Bank of India and other public-sector banks, old-generation private banks, foreign banks, regional rural banks, and co-operative banks, one million employees and officers participated in the strike,” Venkatachalam said.
The violence reported in Noida on the outskirts of Delhi on Wednesday will adversely impact investment sentiment in India and the government must take strong action against the “hooligans,” the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) said in a statement.
“In case immediate action is not taken, investment in Noida and Greater Noida will suffer. An investment worth thousands of crores has already been made in this NCR (national capital region) area in educational institutions, automobile units, IT software, electronics and hospitality sectors,” Assocham secretary general D.S. Rawat said. “If a sense of security is not immediately provided, the realty sector will take the biggest hit as investors from Delhi and other nearby areas would not go there.”
The lobby group estimated that the economy lost around Rs.26,000 crore due to the two-day strike.
“What about workers’ sentiment?” Padmanabhan of CITU countered separately.
There were incidents of sporadic violence in Orissa and Bihar. Government transport was off the roads in Uttar Pradesh, and autorickshaws and taxis did not ply in several parts of the country, including the national capital. In West Bengal, the ear of a worker was reportedly chopped off, allegedly by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress party, for participating in the strike on Wednesday.
The strike was “totally uncalled for”, the Indian Staffing Federation, a lobby group of private recruitment companies such as TeamLease Services Pvt. Ltd, Adecco, Manpower and Kelly Services, said in a statement.
“Apart from taking away livelihood of millions of Indians who depend on their daily earnings to make ends meet, it shall do little to improve the regulatory environment in India,” it said. “The demand raised by unions may be genuine but with over 90,000... trade unions in India, it is difficult to keep a tab on demands.”
Most of the demands, such as improving working conditions in the informal sector, the minimum wage, social security, provident fund and bonus limit “can only be addressed through labour law reforms, which is the need of the hour”, it said.
A revival of economic growth will help combat industrial tension, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said.
“I don’t want to comment on today’s strike. The limited point that I am making is on reviving industrial output. And when industry is back into a normal state, many other tensions on many issues will go down,” he told reporters on the sidelines of an event in New Delhi.
PTI contributed to this story.