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Indian workers in strike over ‘anti-labour’ policies

Afp, New Delhi - February 21st, 2013

Millions of India’s workers walked off their jobs yesterday in a two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions to protest at the “anti-labour” policies of the embattled government.
Financial services and transport were hit by the strike called by 11 major workers’ groups to protest at a series of pro-market economic reforms announced by the government last year, as well as high inflation and rising fuel prices.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had appealed to unions to abandon the strike, the latest in a string of protests against liberalisation, warning it would cause a “loss to our economy” already poised for its slowest annual growth in a decade.
But talks following Singh’s appeal this week collapsed after the government refused to bow to union demands to roll back the reforms, which are aimed at jumpstarting the economy and averting a downgrade in India’s credit rating.
“The workers are being totally ignored and this is reflected in the government’s anti-labour policies,” said Tapan Sen, general secretary of the umbrella Centre of Indian Trade Unions.
The government’s “big ticket” reforms include opening the retail, insurance and aviation sectors to wider foreign investment, raising prices of subsidised diesel used by farmers and reducing the number of discounted cooking gas cylinders.
The steps aim to free up the still heavily state-controlled economy and reduce India’s ballooning subsidy bill and fiscal deficit. But they have stirred anger in some areas, especially among the poor.