India strike evokes mixed response
New Delhi: A 24-hour nationwide strike by 11 trade unions yesterday remained peaceful and evoked a mixed response, but key sectors like banking and transport took a hit in various parts of the country.
The strike, involving around 800,000 public sector employees, was to demand an end to contract labour, amendment of the Minimum Wages Act, an increase in gratuity payout and compulsory registration of trade unions within 45 days.
The demands also include a universal social security net for all unorganised sector workers through the creation of a National Social Security Fund, enforcement of basic labour laws and stringent action against violation of labour laws.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had appealed to all major trade unions and 5,000 non-affiliated unions to call off the strike.
But the unions rejected the appeal, saying it came only 48 hours before one of the largest strike calls in the history of independent India. State-owned banks were mostly closed across the country as retail banking operations were the worst affected, with many officials absent. Even the Reserve Bank of India employees joined the stir.
Flights were not much affected with many of the airlines operating according to schedule. Airport operations too progressed unhindered, said officials.
Other sectors like mining, manufacturing and insurance were also hit by the strike. India Inc termed the strike as "unfortunate and completely misplaced" at a time of economic slowdown and low business sentiment.
In the national capital Delhi, fewer public transport vehicles plied and many auto-rickshaws and taxis were off the roads.
The Delhi government had enforced Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) to ensure important services like power and health care remain unaffected. The strike was almost total in Kerala and hit life across Karnataka.
Normal life was also hit in Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Tripura and Odisha, even as officials had persuaded employees not to join the strike.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the strike has been a failure as the common people have not responded to the call. In Kolkata, the streets wore a near empty look and train services were disrupted as protestors put up blockades at various railway stations.
In Mumbai, employees of banks, insurance companies, central government and local bodies as well as workers in several private industries joined the strike.