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When Strikes Steal Revenue: Toting Up A State’s Loss

Strike Pic (6) (1)

The recent two-day strike ‘stole’ ₹50 lakh from the Kerala Secretariat alone; our correspondent totes up what the loss could be on the State level. Who compensates the common man?

REJIMON K

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With around 90 per cent of Kerala Secretariat employees failing to turn up for duty during the two-day national workers’ strike, the State exchequer could have suffered a loss of ₹50 lakh against zero-productivity, calculations reveal.

The Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram is the seat of power in the State.

“With 5,000 employees working in the Kerala Secretariat, initial reports claim that more than 90 per cent joined the strike and didn’t turn up for duty,” Ajaykumar TI, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) Secretariat Employees Sangh General Secretary, told The Lede.

“The lowest basic salary an employee at the Kerala Secretariat draws, is ₹17,000 per month. And the highest basic is for the Special Secretary, which is around ₹93,000. Now, a majority of them are mid-level salary-drawing workers, which will range between ₹35,000 and ₹40,000. Even if we calculate the loss with the lowest basic salary, the loss would be in lakhs,” Ajaykumar, said.

In 2016, Kerala had approved the 10th Pay Revision Commission’s proposal with retrospective effect from July 2014, causing an additional burden of around ₹7,222 crore annually for the State government.

The 10th Pay Revision Commission has fixed the minimum basic pay of State government employees and teachers at ₹17,000, and the maximum at ₹1.2 lakh.

According to media reports, of the 4,860 employees in the Secretariat, only 111 employees turned up for duty on the first day of the strike. 115 clocked in for work on the second day.

Ajaykumar however stated that checking the attendance data is futile, as workers would have punched their entry and left to join the strike.

“Eventually, the government is going to pay for zero productivity,” Ajaykumar said.

Since January 1, the Kerala government had installed the biometric attendance system for government employees.

An employee in the Kerala Secretariat, on condition of anonymity, told The Lede that the government has not declared dies non, the ‘no-work-no-pay’ principle, for its employees.

“The employees who did not report for work on January 8 and 9 do not stand to lose their salaries. Some may mark their attendance and receive pay for the days of the strike, while the others might avail paid leave,” the employee said.

The National Convention of Workers, a coalition of 10 unions, observed the national-wide strike to protest against the anti-people, anti-worker, anti-national policies of the Bharatiya Janatha Party-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.

According to the State Planning Board’s Economic Review 2017 which was released in 2018, strikes by labour in the State have reduced significantly over the years.

“The man-days lost due to strikes in the State for the year 2017 (up to July) was 85.12 thousand as against 2.68 lakh in the year up to July 2013,” the report reveals.

The report also adds that the number of man-days lost due to lock-outs has been showing an increasing trend over the last two years.

“During the year 2014, the total man-days lost due to lock-out was 2.91 lakh, which increased to 5.26 lakh in 2016. However, the total man-days lost due to lock-out up to July 2017 is 3.59 lakh,” the report adds.

However, in the highly politicised State of Kerala, a strike can become a Harthal or vice versa too, resulting in zero productivity.

The recent two-day workers’ strike become a state-wide Harthal resulting in zero-productivity and loss to the economy.

In 2018, there were nine State-wide Harthals observed, bringing the entire State to a standstill.

According to officials of the Cochin Chamber of Commerce, a State-wide Harthal would cause a loss of ₹900cr to the State’s GDP.

Meanwhile, Thomas KO, a senior official at the Kerala Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that every strike is causing a loss of crores of rupees for the state.

“We were told that protection would be given for us during the strike and the Harthal. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen. We had to down our shutters,” Thomas said.

Jeejo Nedumkallel, a businessman and anti-Harthal campaigner, said that when Kerala is struggling to overcome the loss due to last year’s floods, such kinds of shutdowns are a crime.

“This recent strike can be seen as State-sponsored. The Chief Minister had said that there is a life in every government file and that the employees should consider those files with that kind of care. But what is happening is exactly the opposite. The UN stated that Kerala needs ₹40,000 crores to rebuild Kerala. But we are allowing such strikes and Harthals to happen on a recurring basis, resulting in loss to the economy, and zero-productivity,” Jeejo said.

“If the loss at the Kerala Secretariat alone is this much, think about how mind-blogging the figure would be if we considered all the employees in the State,” Jeejo asked.

Anil Philip, a senior business journalist in Kerala, said that Harthal, bandh and strike, all mean the same to the ordinary citizen – a total shutdown, with violence threatening their lives.

“The fact that the number of productive working days in Kerala is almost one-third less than the national average, speaks a lot about the Harthal culture in the State. The rights of government employees who participated in the recent two-day State-sponsored shutdown will be protected; but what about the right to work of the daily wage earner and the freedom of movement of the common man? Have these Harthals, bandhs and strikes achieved any results? I often wonder if the people who vehemently support and enforce these shutdowns even have any idea why they are doing it in the first place, and what purpose it serves other than creating hardships for the general public,” Anil stated.

“If it was the trade union militancy that killed the industrial sector in Kerala, the day is not far when the service industry will also stand slaughtered by these frequent shutdowns. It’s high time we did some introspection and find better ways to protest,” he added.

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