Strike paralyses Jammu and Kashmir government offices (Lead)

March 11th, 2010 - 6:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Jammu/Srinagar, March 11 (IANS) A strike by nearly half a million government employees in Jammu and Kashmir seeking payment of arrears and a higher retirement age paralysed the state administration for the third day Thursday, with teachers also joining the protest.
About 450,000 state employees went on strike Tuesday, demanding payment of arrears they say the government owes them because of higher salary scales announced by the Sixth Pay Commission. They also want the retirement age to be raised from 58 to 60.

While the authorities grappled with a crippled administration, teachers employed by the state added to the government woes by striking work in solidarity, forcing the closure of all state-run schools.

Education Minister Peerzada Muhammad Syed warned of “stern action” against the teachers, and called their strike action “irresponsible” and “callous”.

“We cannot allow the teachers to play with the careers of our children. The government has taken serious note of their strike. Stern action will be taken against them,” Syed said Thursday.

The state employees’ strike affected hospitals and essential services in Jammu.

Ordinary people expressed disgust over the government employees’ strike.

“We are not asking for something extraordinary. It is due to us, as per the government’s own promise,” Surjit Singh, a leader of the Employees Joint Action Committee (EJAC), told the media in Jammu Thursday.

Muhammad Jabbar, 58, in Shangus in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district said: “It is a cruel joke on the common man. I have to submit a permanent resident certificate for my son within this week, and the district office from where such a certificate is issued is closed. What am I supposed to do now?”

The total annual wage bill of the state government was Rs.4,000 crore before the implementation of the latest Pay Commission recommendations.

“The government needs financial support from the central government to pay the arrears. We have taken up the matter with the central government. This will take some time. The arrears cannot be paid overnight,” an officer of the state finance department said.

“The enhancement of retirement age from 58 to 60 will result in stoppage of recruitments in government departments for two years, which will add to the problems of thousands of qualified, unemployed youth,” the officer said.

“All these factors have to be seriously weighed before a decision is taken on this issue,” he added.

Chief minister Omar Abdullah told the legislative assembly Feb 25 the government had already “fulfilled its commitment of enhancing the pay scales as recommended by the Sixth Pay Commission. We are committed to release the arrears as soon as the financial position eases.”

But the striking employees claim that the government had last year promised that their demands would be met soon.

“We have decided to continue the struggle for our just cause. Unless the government meets our demands, we shall announce a detailed agitational programme March 15,” a striking employee said.

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