The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Strike off after suicide

Chennai, Nov. 2: A headmaster’s suicide and the threat of dismissal combined to end an administrative standoff as striking government employees and schoolteachers in Tamil Nadu called off their 10-day protest last evening.

The employees and teachers, who went on strike from October 23 demanding bonus and restoration of some benefits the government withheld last year citing financial crunch, will return to work from Tuesday after Diwali.

M. Kasipandian, adjudged best teacher last year, set himself on fire in front of the office of the assistant education officer at Pollachi, Coimbatore, in protest against the government’s attitude and attempts by “outsiders” to break into his school and run classes.

A spokesman of the Joint Action Committee of Government Employees’ Organisations and School Teachers said the “warning to invoke the Essential Services Maintenance Act and chief minister Jayalalithaa’s declaration to sack employees” unless they returned to work by October 31 had a “partial” impact. Under Esma, a striker can be jailed for up to three years. The tragic self-immolation, he added, was also a factor.

Kasipandian was the headmaster of a panchayat elementary school and was known for his dedication.

Moreover, sources said, major Opposition parties like the DMK, the Congress, the PMK and the Left had planned a public meeting last evening to express solidarity with the employees following Jayalalithaa’s threat in the Assembly. This also made the government tone down its earlier “no-further-talks-stand”. The meeting was, however, postponed by a day because of pouring rain.

The employees called off their strike after talks with finance secretary N. Narayanan, followed by a meeting with the chief minister.

The government, however, stuck to its guns, giving away nothing new, apart from the already announced four-percentage point increase in dearness allowance with effect from October 1. Jayalalithaa also met the striking employees only after the unions had called off the strike.

The only face-saver for the unions was that their demand for the entire four per cent in cash — instead of three per cent in cash and one per cent to be credited to the provident fund as earlier announced — would be considered. Jayalalithaa assured the strikers that Esma would not be invoked against them. The strike-period, she said, would be treated as “extraordinary leave without pay”. Barring specific criminal actions initiated against some employees for incidents of violence, all other disciplinary steps, including suspensions, will be dropped, finance minister C. Ponnaiyan clarified in a statement today.

Jayalalithaa, who had come down heavily on the agitating employees, was categorical that government staff had to be reasonable because with the continuing cash crunch, hardly anything was left for development programmes for the poor. There was a case for sharing the distress, she had argued in the Assembly.

It was this “firm and principled approach of Amma that eventually paid off” in resolving the deadlock, Ponnaiyan said.

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