End in sight to strike as talks begin
Tentative signs of the ongoing indefinite strike by pro-Left Democratic Front (LDF) State employees and teachers against the proposed contributory pension scheme reaching a resolution appeared on Sunday evening with Finance Minister K.M. Mani inviting the unions on strike for a formal discussion. There is widespread expectation that the talks, which began after 10 p.m., might result in a breakthrough in the standoff between the two sides.
The Finance Minister had held a round of informal discussion with the union leaders here on Thursday evening. Although Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had, over the past few days, taken a hawkish position on the strike and refused to meet the union leaders, he confirmed here late Sunday evening that the talks between the Finance Minister and the unions were with his knowledge and on behalf of the government.
On Sunday forenoon, Leader of the Opposition V.S. Achuthanandan taunted the Chief Minister accusing him of arrogance and stubbornness on the issue. The Opposition Leader said he had spoken to Mr. Mani about the need for talks, but was told that he could not do so without a directive from the Chief Minister.
The government and the unions have given sufficient indications of a climbdown from their earlier positions on the contributory pension scheme, the former putting forward at least three different options for investing the pension fund proceeds and holding forth the promise that the employees could be assured of a minimum pension. The unions have been pushing for a dialogue with the government, not only because of the perceived flagging of support for the strike, but for fear of a public backlash.
The SSLC examinations are round the corner and the teachers’ organisations can hardly afford to be on strike at such a time. There are also signs of considerable confusion among both the employees and teachers about the rationale for the strike. The unions had devoted Saturday and Sunday for mounting a door-to-door campaign meeting employees and teachers to explain the reasons for the strike. The Opposition has been trying to bring pressure on the government and create fissures among the ruling parties so that the unions are called for a discussion to end the strike.
The LDF State committee had on Thursday decided to throw its weight behind the striking unions and called upon the government to open talks with them.