Battle lines drawn among employee unions

Updated: Jul 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
There are no official reports on West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasguptas first reaction when he heard the Central governments decision to form the 6th pay commission.

Over the past few years, the minister consistently blamed the Centres 5th Pay Commission package for having forced the state to consitute the 4th Pay Commissionone of the reasons for the states sustained economic woes and huge debts.

The states version is that the 4th Pay Commission-based pay revision cost the exchequer Rs 1,200 crore every month for paying its 10-lakh employees.

The state government has not stated if it would set up another pay commission. The pro-Left state employees union is not ready with the demand, but a section of the state employees feel they should not be deprived.

The other side of the story cuts a sorry figure for the Left Front governments welfare programme and policy on the state employees governance.

The last dearness allowance (DA) hike of 3% for the state came 24 months after their Central colleagues.

The Centre made the payment to the state at the time (24 months back) it announced the DA. Obviously, the state governments fiscal situation was not good enough to pay out its employees promptly.

Today, central government employees are 10-percentage point ahead, and many employees feel the state is not keen to bridge the gap.

Former general secretary of the Association of West Bengal Secretariat Assistants, Subhas Bagchi, said, No one knows what the state government did with the money it received 24 months back. The gap between the Central announcement of DA and that of the state is minimum of eight months and maximum of 44 months.

Can a state government sitting on a debt of Rs 1.12 lakh crore afford to have another pay commission asked Abhirup Sarkar, an economist with the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI). Yes it can, only if the state administration is strictly prudent. Till recently, the state ran the administration along party lines where random recruitment was common, said Sarkar.

This led to wage payouts of sizes that cant be justified on the basis of performancebe it in education, public health or day-to-day administrative activities.

With the Central announcement, the battle lines are already drawn among the state employees unions.

The largest Left body sympathetic to the CPI(M)-led government, the Coordination Committee of State Government Employees Union, is in no hurry to demand a new commission immediately. Joint secretary Samir Bhattacharjee said, We would first want to see the terms of reference and the interim announcement.

Bhattacharjee added, While placing the demand, we should pay attention to employees aspirations. He also wants the Centre to shoulder a greater burden of the states wage bill.

However, employees with the Opposition-supporting unions felt this was an unjust demand. The Centre had reimbursed the additional hike for core government employees belonging to the secretariat, directorate and regional cadres.

Subhas Bagchi said, The Central government is not ready to reimburse the pay hike for non-core government sectors such as for teachers. This is fair, considering the CPI(M) recruits teachers to increase its influence. This has not reflected on the states educational system, which has recorded just average performance.

So why would the Centre be share the burden when there is no accountability and transparency asked Bagchi.