Brothers and sisters,
In the last week of April ’12 the Maharashtra Legislative Council passed the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act 2011 (MESMA). This was earlier cleared by the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha in December ’11. Does this mean that now an Act has been passed which will help improve Essential Services like Health services, Water supply, Ration supply, Education, Transport, and Electricity etc.? No! There is not a single provision in the Act in this direction.

This Act gives the government the necessary authority to penalize employees striking work in any service, type of employment or class, which in its opinion would adversely impact public life or maintenance of services essential to the community. Thus employees working in any sector including semi government and private sector can be brought under this Act if the Government of Maharashtra feels that such services are “essential” for the community. Employees resorting to such so called "illegal" strikes could face a six-month jail term, and a fine of Rs 2,000. This Act also permits the government to prosecute those lending financial or any other support to such strikes. People instigating employees to go on a strike could face a one-year jail term or a fine of Rs 2,000.

Brothers and sisters,
The right to protest including right to strike work is one of the fundamental rights given to us by the Constitution. We resort to the extreme step of strike only after all other means of protest in defense of our livelihood and human rights are exhausted. We resort to this extreme step only when we realize that our employer is just ignoring our legitimate demands, which are sometimes kept pending even for decades! Many times we have to resort to this step since our employers refuse to implement orders given by the courts! This Act thus is a very fascist attack on our rights and hence needs to be roundly condemned.

Refusal to work overtime shall also be illegal under this Act. Thousands of doctors, nurses, engine drivers, bus drivers, pilots, maintenance and operating staff connected with services like electricity, water, sewage handling, etc. are regularly forced to work overtime, because the existing staff is severely inadequate. Does the government not know that such extra work severely affects the quality of work and often exposes the users of these services to extreme danger that can even lead to serious accidents? In most of the recent agitations by doctors and nursing staff, engine drivers and other drivers, teachers, electricity and public health related workers etc. some of the main demands have been regarding filling up tens of thousands of vacant posts, making casual workers permanent, improving the inhuman working conditions and duty hours, etc. In the last few years they have been increasingly raising their voice of protest all over the country and especially in Maharashtra. The purpose of this Act is to prevent such protests. By this Act the government seeks to suppress such agitations which are actually aimed at improving Essential Services!

Brothers and sisters,
Ever since the policy of Globalisation through Liberalisation and Privatization were launched in 1991, the Government has been attempting to privatize many public sector undertakings. The big capitalist companies, both Indian and foreign, using their control over the political parties that rule our country, are pushing this agenda. In fact recently their cries have become shriller and they are blaming the government’s inability to push through a further round of reforms for the slowdown in the economy. They want reforms in the labour laws, which will make it easier to hire and fire workers, as well as to employ them on contract. They want changes in the law banning workers from protesting, and MESMA is such an example. They want the Government to privatize banking, insurance and public services such as transport, electricity, water supply, health and education.

Brothers and sisters,
It is also very important for us to question the manner in which such Acts are passed in our country which is the “biggest democracy” in the world. How come the “demos” i.e. “we the people” are not even consulted before passing such Acts? Various organizations of people have in fact been opposing such Acts publicly.

Let us remember that when the ESMA was passed in 1981 by the Centre, it was followed by a wave of united working class struggles including the November 23, 1981 march to Parliament, and an all-India general strike on January 19, 1982. The government has not been able to re-enact ESMA at the Centre once it expired in 1989.

It is up to all of us to foil the government’s plans this time round too. We urge all the people’s representatives at various levels to join us, irrespective of their party affiliations, in opposing draconian Acts such as these.

Let us with one voice demand that

  • No Essential services should be treated as profit making ventures!
  • Drastically improving the working conditions of all employees working in essential services should be given the topmost priority!
  • All the casual employees working in these sectors should immediately be made permanent and all vacancies should immediately be filled!

Lok Raj Sangathan, Airport Authority of India Employees Union, Air India Aircraft Engineers Association (AIAEA), All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Railway Employees Federation (AIREC), All India Service Engineers Association (AISEA), All India Voltas Employees Federation, Association of State Medical Interns, BEST Workers Union, BSNL Employees Union, Communist Ghadar Party of India, Hind Naujawan Ekta Sabha, Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), Kamgar Ekta Chalwal, Ladaku Garment Mazdoor Sangh, Maharashtra Association of Resident Doctors (MARD), Mumbai Municipal Engineers’ Association, Mumbai Municipal Mazdoor Union, National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE), Purogamil Mahila Sangathana,Western Railway Motormen’s Association (WRMA).

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