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The Madras High Court today left it to the conscience of the striking trade unions of state transport corporations to decide as to whether they could ply the buses from tomorrow for five days in view of the Pongal harvest festival in the interest of the public. A division bench comprising justices S Manikumar and M Govindaraj asked the counsel appearing for the trade unions to inform their decision to the court tomorrow, even as the strike over wage revision entered the seventh day today. The bench posted to January 11 the further hearing of a batch of petitions relating to the "flash strike" by state transport corporation workers. Earlier, after hearing marathon arguments, the bench made a proposal that the government could implement its suggestion of a 2.44 per cent wage hike. The transport workers could resume their work from today itself following the implementation, it said. The disputes relating to 0.13 per cent further wage hike and other issues could be heard later on merits, the bench added. Senior Counsel Prakash and advocate Prasad, appearing for Labour Progressive Federation and CITU respectively, sought time to get instructions from the trade union leaders. When the bench resumed its proceedings at 6 p.m, the counsel appearing for the trade unions did not agree with the proposal. Advocate General Vijay Narayan said the court can take it as an undertaking from the government that it will implement the 2.44 per cent wage hike to all. Senior counsel Prakash said the Advocate General was trying to create an impression that he will give an undertaking that the 2.44 per cent wage hike will be implemented as if the government was magnanimous when major trade unions did not participate in the negotiations. The AG said 23 sittings were held and in all the sittings all the trade unions participated but the CITU and LPF unions did not sign and they walked out. Now, the settlement was over. If they did not agree with the settlement, they can adjudicate the matter. The government was ready to adjudicate it, he said. The AG said he can prove by records the unions which have signed the settlement, has a strength of 70 per cent of the total workers. They were willing to ply the buses but these trade unions were preventing them, he alleged. Senior counsel Prakash said no organisation shall function without self-respect. The workers suffered for more than one-and-a-half years. By obtaining signatures from 34 small unions and without holding negotiations with major unions, the government claims that settlement has been arrived at, the counsel said. Therefore, the workers were agitated and as a last resort, they indulged in strike, he argued. Law does not say they should not strike. Strike will always cause inconvenience.
It was not the intention of the workers to cause inconvenience. But for compulsion, they resorted to strike, he added. The bench said it was clear from the union leaders, who were present in court and giving instructions to their counsel that unless the government comes forward and decide the issue, they will not withdraw the strike. Larger public interest should be taken into account. Everybody should not be affected including workers, it said. At least for five days during Pongal, they could ply the buses. The issues relating to negotiations and settlements could be decided on January 17, it said. "We are making this suggestion in the larger interest of the public. Till Pongal festival, public should not suffer. We leave it to your conscience," the bench added. The counsel for the trade unions said they will inform the decision on the suggestion to the court tomorrow.
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