Confrontation with Left unions over pension scheme

The government is set for a head on confrontation with Left government employees and teachers organisations that have called for an indefinite strike from January 8 in protest against the decision to implement contributory pension from April 1.

The first indication that the government will go ahead with the pension scheme came when it announced that dies non (no work no pay) will be applicable to striking employees much before the conciliatory talks convened by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy. The build up to the strike suggests that it is going to be a long haul for the government. The striking Joint Action Council of employees and teachers has promised to make it difficult for the government, with the strike being launched at a time when development activities generally gather momentum.

For a person who has sought to travel the consensus route since assuming power, Mr. Chandy will face a personal challenge while confronting the unions.

In the last 20-odd months, he has kept in mind the slender majority the UDF has while handling consensus issues, bending backwards at times to accommodate the LDF’s views while taking decisions.

Sops promised

At the conciliatory talks last week, Mr. Chandy, while refusing to give up the new scheme, had held out the olive branch by promising sops such as including a provision for commutation of 60 per cent of pension under the scheme besides enlisting the spouse as a beneficiary at the option of the employee.

The UDF government views the strike politically motivated. The contributory pension scheme has been implemented by the majority of the States. The scheme will be applicable to new entrants to the government service and will not affect existing employees.

But the government appeal had not gone down well with the Left organisations as could be seen by their determination to go all out to secure their demands.

In a way, the build up to the strike resembles a similar one in 2002, when the then Antony government took some harsh measures to curb employees’ benefit in the face of a mounting financial crunch.

Mr. Antony had the backing of a strong ruling majority when he decided to go on the confrontation route. The financial crunch was serious enough at that time that called for harsh measures. The stir lasted for more than a month, during which period the budget was presented.

Pension payments

The Chandy government has now made the plunge for the contributory pension scheme in view of the huge outflow on pension payments. But he has to depend on the unstinted support of his coalition partners while facing the strike and its fallout given the slender majority he has.

The issue of contributory pension has been in the air for quite some time. The Expenditure Review Committee, headed by the late K.K. Subramaniom, in its interim report submitted during the previous LDF government’s time, had also suggested implementing contributory pension. The Bhattacharya committee appointed by the RBI to study pension schemes of State governments had also recommended contributory pension, with various States being given the option to tailor the scheme to suit their requirements.

Kerala could not take a decision on the scheme owing to the lack of political will. The Chandy government obviously sees an opportunity in the combination of situations that have come about while going on the offensive.