Millions of public sector workers went on strike across the country yesterday protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans for greater privatisation and a proposed minimum wage hike they say is inadequate.
Up to 150mn workers from sectors including nursing, banking, manufacturing and coal mining as well as hawkers and daily wage labourers took part in the 24-hour nationwide strike, organisers said.
Ten major unions called the strike after talks with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley broke down, with leaders rejecting his offer to raise the minimum wage for unskilled workers from Rs6,396 ($95) per month to Rs9,100 ($136).
Workers are also demanding the government dump plans to shutter unproductive factories, raise foreign investment caps in some industries and sell off stakes in state-run companies — over fears that creeping privatisation will jeopardise jobs.
The Centre of Indian Trade Unions said workers were “demanding an end to the all-round attack launched by the government against their lives, livelihood and dignity” and that 150mn people were expected to lay down tools.
It accused the government of a “vile conspiracy...to privatise the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry”.
Unions are seeking the introduction of universal social security as well as an increase in the minimum wage to Rs18,000 a month because of rising prices.
Banks, shops and schools shut down in several parts of the country including southern Karnataka and Kerala where public transport stopped running, stranding commuters and travellers.
Television footage showed flag-waving protesters squatting on railway tracks in Orissa and West Bengal, which has a long history of left-wing union activism.
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