Maharashtra govt employees launch indefinite strike for Old Pension Scheme; services hit
Mumbai, Lakhs of employees of the Maharashtra government went on an indefinite strike from Tuesday seeking restoration of the Old Pension Scheme (OPS), affecting services, including in state-run hospitals, a day after Chief Minister Eknath Shinde announced to set up a committee to look into the demand. Paramedics working in hospitals run by the state government, sanitation workers and teachers have also joined the strike which comes at a time when board examinations for Classes 10 and 12 are underway. Employees raised slogans like “Only one mission, restore old pension” outside government offices and hospitals. Vishwas Katkar, the convenor of a committee of nearly 35 unions representing state government employees, semi-government staffers and teachers, said their members in all 36 districts of Maharashtra are participating in the stir. “Services in hospitals, educational institutes, government establishments, tax offices and even the district collector offices were completely shut,” Katkar claimed. He asserted there will be no compromise on the issue and demanded that the OPS, under which the entire pension amount was given by the government, must be restored. Since 2004, government employees (barring armed forces personnel) are covered under the National Pension System (NPS), a contributory scheme where the payout is market-linked and return-based. Sumitra Tote of the Maharashtra Nurses Association said its members from 34 branches across 30 districts participated in the strike on Day one.
However, government services in Mumbai, including in hospitals, remained largely unaffected. In the state-run JJ group of hospitals, which controls four medical facilities in Mumbai, services were mostly unaffected, said Dr Pallavi Saple, dean, JJ Hospital. “Major surgeries took place at two of our hospitals. But we have started planning for the coming days. We are roping in nurses from the BMC (Mumbai civic body). We also have nursing students, Class four workers who are on contract,” she said. Sources in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) unions said though they have supported the strike, they haven’t participated in it. Shashank Rao, a prominent trade unionist who heads the Municipal Union, said his organisation has submitted a representation to BMC commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal with a copy to Chief Minister Shinde, demanding a return to the OPS. “If the government tries to crush the agitation of state government employees, the civic employees will also jump into the agitation in support of them,” Rao cautioned.
Former Chief Minister and Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray also came out in support of the agitating employees and said the government should restore the OPS. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has already extended support to the OPS restoration demand. Nurses, ward boys and sanitation staff of Government Medical College and Hospitals, and Indira Gandhi Government Medical College and Hospital, both in Nagpur, joined the strike along with employees of the local civic corporation. They also staged demonstrations in Nagpur in support of the OPS and other demands.
In Latur in central Maharashtra, thousands of government employees from various departments took out a march and protested against the state administration. The march started from Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Park and concluded at the old collector office, and during the protest, agitators held placards and raised slogans like ‘ Only One Mission, Old Pension’. Besides restoration of the OPS, the agitating employees highlighted several other demands, including regularization of services of contractual employees, filling up of vacant posts and benefits of in-service advancement scheme to teaching and non-teaching staff. The employees resorted to the strike after talks between unions and the state government failed on Monday. The state had witnessed unseasonal rains last week resulting in large-scale damage to standing crops. The panchnama or loss assessment process, a crucial step to fix the compensation for farmers, could also be affected due to the strike. A day before, Chief Minister Shinde had announced a panel comprising senior bureaucrats to look into the demand of state government employees to revert to the OPS. The panel will give its report in a time-bound manner, officials have said. Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had appealed to the government employees not to go ahead with their strike. Government employees in several states have been agitation for OPS, which was discontinued in 2003. Under the OPS, a government employee gets a monthly pension equivalent to 50 per cent his/her last drawn salary. There was no need for contribution by employees. Under the NPS, a state government employee contributes 10 per cent of his/her basic salary plus dearness allowance with the state making a matching contribution. The money is then invested in one of the several pension funds approved by the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) and returns are market-linked.