With the travel plans of thousands of commuters falling apart on the second day of a statewide transport strike, the Madras high court on Friday stepped in, rapping the trade unions and directing employees to return to work immediately.
The trade unions, however, stood their ground, turning defensive while the government jumped got into firefighting mode, roping in temporary drivers and conductors to tide over the crisis. The government just about managed to operate bus services with a skeletal fleet that AIADMK-affiliated unions were left to run.
"The striking workers should go back to work or face the consequences, including termination and contempt of court," said the first bench headed by Chief Justice Indira Banerjee, passing interim orders on a PIL filed on the issue. The court said it was the duty of the state to protect the rights of its citizens during such circumstances.
Chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami convened a hurried meeting with ministers and bureaucrats to discuss ways to end the stalemate. But soon after the meeting, transport minister M R Vijayabaskar ruled out any negotiations with the trade unions.
The minister threatened to initiate action against workers who do not give up the stir and report to work. "Our talks for wage revision are over," he said. "An agreement has been signed [with several trade unions] on Thursday. The government will incur an additional expenditure of ?1,000 crore per year due to the wage revision pact."
But the protesting trade unions refused to back down. "We are yet to receive a copy of the high court order. Moreover the order is one sided as the court did not hear our arguments. We have decided to continue the strike and approach the Supreme Court as early as possible," said CITU chief A Soundarajajan, who held a meeting with union leaders after the court directive.