Madras High Court appoints its former judge E. Padmanabhan as an arbitrator to adjudicate dispute between government and employees over quantum of wage revision and directs them to resume work.

Tamil Nadu transport workers called off their on Thursday night after the Madras High Court earlier in the day appointed its former judge E. Padmanabhan as an arbitrator to adjudicate the dispute between the government and them over the quantum of wage revision and directed them to resume work.

Centre of Indian Trade Unions leader A. Soundararajan said workers would resume work from Friday morning.

Eight days of inconveniene
The protest lasted for eight days, during which commuters all over the State faced severe difficulties.

A Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and M. Govindaraj passed the order on a batch of public interest litigation petitions filed against the strike. It, however, rejected the workers’ plea to order that the legal validity of a settlement reached with a few unions on January 4 shall also be decided by the arbitrator.

Concurring with the submissions of Advocate-General Vijay Narayan, the judges made it clear that the arbitrator would decide on only two issues: whether the workers would be entitled to revision of wages using the multiplying factor of 2.57 as demanded by them or 2.44 as agreed to by the government, and the date from which such a revision would come into effect.

Such a reference for arbitration should be made in accordance with Section 10(3A) of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947, the judges said. They refused to accept the workers’ plea that a charter of demands made by them as early as on November 22, 2016, should also be made part of the reference.

Taking note of the fact that as many as 11,000 buses were scheduled to be operated as special services for the Pongal festival, the judges pointed out that they had been making an appeal to the workers right from the inception of the cases to return to work by taking into consideration the enormous amount inconvenience that people were undergoing.

“In the interest of children, students, workers, patients, office-goers, traders, small-time vendors, and poor and middle class people, who represent the larger section of commuters, we direct the transport corporation employees to resume work immediately,” the Division Bench said and hoped that the workers would not continue their strike any more.

Five demands
Earlier in the day, senior counsel V. Prakash, representing the Labour Progressive Federation (LPF) that is associated to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, submitted a memo in the court. He said the workers were willing to return to work if the government agreed to five of the demands listed out in the memo.

The first of the five demands was to refer the wage revision dispute for arbitration and the second was to stop the practice of not remitting statutory as well as non statutory deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts. The third one was to pay wages for the strike period and fourth was to withdraw all criminal cases booked against striking workers.

The LPF also wanted the departmental proceedings to be revoked. In his reply to the memo, Transport Secretary P.W.C. Davidar agreed for the arbitration on quantum of wage revision alone. He stated that henceforth there shall not be any delay in remitting the deductions made from employees’ salaries in the respective accounts.

He, however, said the government was not inclined to pay wages for the strike period by following the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ and also because it had suffered loss to the tune of ₹100 crore due to the strike. “Any compromise on this, will dilute the discipline through the entire workforce and further encourage indiscipline across all sectors,” he said.

The government also refused to withdraw the criminal cases registered against transport employees on the ground that most of them were booked on charges of damaging public property.