Union Minister of State for Labour Kodikunnil Suresh on Sunday claimed that the Centre had held talks with 11 central trade unions for talks as soon as they served the notice of the February 20-21 nationwide general strike.

Asked at a news conference about the Centre’s inaction over averting the proposed strike, Mr. Suresh said the unions had served notice of the strike on February 10 and that the Labour Ministry had held a meeting with them on February 13. He pointed out that at the meeting the unions had rejected the government’s call for dropping the strike.

When told that the unions had announced the strike plan back in September last but the government had not taken any initiative to hold talks with the 11 central unions all this while, Mr. Suresh said the government could take an initiative only after it received a formal notice from the unions.

“The government cannot invite the unions for talks on the basis of media reports,” he said. Asked if the strike, which highlighted issues that deserved top-level political decision, did not merit intervention by the Prime Minister, Mr. Suresh said the talks were held at the instance of the Prime Minister and that he was informed of the outcome of the talks.

Mr. Suresh, however, agreed that major demands raised by the unions — such as checking price rise, halting disinvestment in public sector and creation of more jobs — were beyond the purview of the Labour Ministry. He said the unions’ demands that related to the Labour Ministry — such as raising bonus ceiling and increasing Provident Fund pension — required extensive tripartite discussions involving the employers, the PF board and the unions. This would take time and could not be settled immediately, he added.

The Minister urged the unions to call off the strike, as the 48-hour strike would deeply hurt the economy.

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