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The government may have broken its silence on recurring employees’ strikes at last, but what it had to say amounts to little except tired cliches’ and platitudes. Who does not know that prolonged lockdowns in government offices are an unbearable loss to public finances, and an ordeal for the common masses who, unfortunately, have to have regular interface with officialdom? And yet, the government has done all within its capacity to ensure that such losses repeat themselves with regularity. The senior cabinet minister who came out with yet another dose of “conciliation instead of confrontation” rhetoric yesterday could have been more enlightening if he had dwelt a little on the JCC’s allegations about the government failing to honour its promises. Surely, the promises were made when the unions chose conciliation. If the employee leadership is guilty of misrepresentation when it says that specific deadlines had been agreed upon, why does the government not clear the air? It certainly owes it to the people it says are being shortchanged by frequent strikes to nail the JCC’s version. Since it has done nothing of this sort, the inescapable conclusion would be that the government has absolutely no clue as to what to do. Or worse, as these columns have suggested, the government is complicit by design.

  It is not without reason that the government should have chosen to broach an issue last year, and preclude its fulfilment, just close to the deadline of its latest promises. One  round of strikes by the JCC then had been averted almost at the last minute by high-level assurances that a decision on its demands would be taken somewhere in the middle of September. The government’s unambiguous declaration later that the employees should not expect anything more was, to say the least, an indication that it is in no mood to keep its word.  But the wonder is the ease with which the government speaks with a forked tongue. The head of the cabinet sub-committee, at least, should have been aware that assurances at the highest bureaucratic level have been given, not once but twice, since last year for decisions to be taken within a specified time frame.  Selective amnesia, it seems, is not the exclusive preserve of the fickle masses, but a characteristic trait of the ruling classes as well.      

The government’s take earlier is remarkable on two counts. First, it had chosen to dwell only on the salary component of the issue. Here too, it had glibly passed over the ticklish matter of arrears, not referring to it even by implication. But, as these columns have pointed out a few months ago, this demand has mysteriously disappeared from the JCC’s horizon itself, signalling that its leadership had silently fallen in line. Of the remaining demands, some of which used to figure only incidentally in govt-versus-employees rows in the past, three stand out in contention – enhancement in retirement age, regularisation of various categories of non-permanent employees, and addressing pay anomalies. This was the second salient feature of the government’s statement then, for the issue did not figure in it at all. How could as senior a figure in the government as the finance minister have forgotten that the assurances had been given specifically on these three counts?  If memory cells need prodding somewhere, elaborate bureaucratic explanations about data of various categories of non-permanent employees not having been compiled had received wide media coverage at that time. One of the several conclusions to be drawn is that the government is no better on this front today as it was  many months ago.  

 

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