More than a million Indians go on strike

Transport, banks and hospitals affected as minimum wage talks fail

NEW DELHI • Transport services were disrupted across India yesterday and state-run banks and insurance companies were shut as more than a million workers went on strike, saying Prime Minister Narendra Modi was pursuing anti-labour policies.

Trade unions backed by communist parties and the main opposition Congress said a government decision to raise minimum wages for unskilled workers did not go far enough and there was no social security or pensions for millions who were outside the organised sector.

The workers are also opposed to the Modi government's decision to open up the railways and defence sectors to greater foreign direct investment, which they say is a way to undermine state companies.

Workers in various places waved red flags and picketed outside government offices and blocked trains and roads with burning tyres. In New Delhi, nurses went on strike at government hospitals.

"We have been putting forward our demands for the last five years. But over the last year, no minister has even met the trade unions," said Mr Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, one of 10 groups boasting a combined membership of 180 million workers that called the strike.

A Centre of Indian Trade Unions activist during a protest in Bangalore yesterday as part of nationwide stoppages.
A Centre of Indian Trade Unions activist during a protest in Bangalore yesterday as part of nationwide stoppages. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Since the Modi government took office in 2014, it has taken a series of incremental steps to make labour laws less onerous for businesses and attract foreign investment.

But fear of a union-led backlash has made the Indian leader leave the responsibility for unshackling the labour market with the states.

The 10 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 6,396 rupees (S$130) per month to 9,100 rupees.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'More than a million Indians go on strike'. Print Edition | Subscribe