Is the court ruling on strikes fair?
No. But union power should be curtailed
Parth J. Shah
Economic Times, August 13
The recent decision of the Supreme Court that bans government
employees from going on strike violates the fundamental rights of freedom of association
and of expression. The government employees now do not have the rights that all other
citizens enjoy. The Court has become a predator instead of a protector of rights. The
argument is that consumers are impacted when government employees that provide essential
services go on strike. It is especially severe when there are no alternatives to these
government services. So the government monopoly on essential goods and services is used to
justify treating its employees as second-class citizens.
Why have monopoly government services? Get the government out of business altogether, and
not discriminate against its employees. One mistake forces us to commit more. Isnt
it better to correct the first mistake?
However, recent privatisations have created not competition but private monopolies.
Electricity is privatised in Delhi but the consumer does not really have a choice among
power companies. A strike by employees of the private electricity company would be no less
harmful. But the court has not taken away their right to strike. If providers of essential
services cannot be allowed to strike, then it should apply to all providers, government or
private. Let the court then list the services it considers essential. The absurdity of
such a ban shall become obvious once it starts listing them: electricity, telecom, water,
garbage disposal, banks, post office, health care, education, newspapers, radio, TV...
Which one can you live without? Privatise government businesses such that no monopolies
are created. No employee whether of government or private sector would then need to be
denied her equal rights.
The labour unions, however, should not have any extraordinary powers. All unions whether
of employees or employers should be equal before the law. The labour unions should not be
able to force people to become members or use violence to shut out members who disagree
with the decision to go on strike. The labour unions should be civil associations.
The author is President, Centre for Civil Society.
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