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The Madras High Court today directed the Tamil Nadu government not to sack transport corporation employees who are on a strike without its permission. The first bench, headed by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee, made it clear that the services of agitating workers could not be terminated without leave of court. The court, however, declined to vacate its January 5 interim order restraining the employees from going on strike. Hearing a public interest litigation (PIL), the court had taken a serious view of the strike and said employees should get back to work or "face consequences" including termination of services and contempt of court. The PIL petition sought a direction to the state government to convene a meeting with workers on strike since January 4 over wage increase and find a solution to the issue. When the matter came up today, counsels representing trade unions taking part in the strike submitted that their stir was not a "flash strike" and notices had been issued to the authorities concerned. But the court declined to accept their contention. "None of the government authorities or even the transport minister are affected by the strike.
Only the middle and poor class people who depend on public transport are affected," it observed. It, however, asked the state government not to terminate the services of the workers. "The services of the striking workers cannot be terminated without leave of court," it said. Referring to the "legitimate dues" of the workers, the bench said, "Transport workers are entitled to their legitimate dues, but people cannot be inconvenienced through such strikes." After recording the submissions of the workers, the bench said the staff could not be denied their legitimate dues, particularly those already deducted from their wages. The court said it expected the state government to clear the dues immediately by taking loans or through other means. The bench also said it expected the government to immediately release outstanding Provident Fund and other dues of retired workers, particularly where deductions had been made from their wages. Advocate General Vijay Narayan said these issues had come up because the transport corporations were in the red for over seven years. To this, the bench said if the government was unable to run the corporations effectively, they could be privatised, but gradually without affecting the present employees till they retired from service. The bench said the authorities could not withhold PF dues already deducted and added that such benefits were the statutory right of the workers. The AG then submitted that a division bench of the court was seized of the matter and interim orders had been issued from time to time. "As per the orders the government has so far paid Rs 379 crore to retired employees of the corporations," he added. Earlier, the union counsels claimed that Rs 5,000 crore had been deducted from the workers and the government was literally running the corporations with funds deducted from the employees. They said that even when talks were on between the transport minister and union leaders, a settlement was mala fidely signed in the presence of the transport commissioner "with a few minor unions". Refusing to interfere in the settlement signed, the bench transferred the matter to another division bench headed by Justice S Manikumar to be heard along with a similar case pending before it.
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