Are India's government employees justified in going on strike?

While the government employees belong to organized class, there are an estimated 300 million people in India who belong to the unorganized class living on daily wages or are self-employed without economic and social security. 

N S Venkataraman Mar 03, 2024
India government employees (Representational Photo)

It is reported that the trade unions and associations working amongst 2.8 million employees of the Government of India, including the railways and public sector undertakings, and more than 30 million employees and teachers working with the state governments, have decided to go on an indefinite strike from 1st May 2024  demanding the restoration of what is known as old pension scheme (OPS). In other words, these organized class of government employees want to use their collective mob strength to bring the government to its knees and get whatever they want,  unmindful about the problems faced by the government in acceding to their demand.

By no stretch of the imagination, one can think that the government employees in India are underpaid or left in want.  Particularly after the implementation of the 7th pay commission in 2016, the salaries and benefits for employees of the government of India have gone up substantially and such a pay hike pattern was also followed by all state governments in due course. Today,  the government employees in India including teachers working in government schools and colleges should be considered as belonging to a middle-income group and certainly not lower lower-income group.

The fundamental question is whether these well-paid government employees are justified in forming trade unions and claiming trade union rights.  Karl Marx, the great benefactor of the working class who lived in the 19th century and gave the clarion call that the ”workers have nothing to lose except the chain”  would be turning in his grave,  to view the present conditions in India, where highly paid government employees exploit the trade union concept evolved by Karl Marx, for their self-centered desires, unconcerned about the plight of millions of unorganized class in India belonging to lower income group.

At one time, In Karl Marx's period, the issue was the oppressed class against the capitalist class.  Now, the issue in India is organized class against unorganized class.

Affordability of government

The government employees insist that they would go on an indefinite strike if the government would not revert to the old pension scheme as against the new pension scheme. The subject of old and new pension schemes has been extensively debated in various forums in recent years and the consensus view is that both the old pension scheme and the new pension scheme have their own merits and it is wrong to say that new pension schemes have no specific advantages to the employees.

In any case, without going into this question of evaluating the merits and demerits of new pension schemes and old pension schemes, the issue relates to the affordability for the government in accepting the demand for old pension schemes by government employees.

Several independent economists have pointed out that a return to the old pension scheme would have an extremely high impact on the finances of the government and reduce the funds available for capital expenditures for the implementation of development programmes by the government.

Reserve Bank of India has indicated that the collective reversion to the old pension scheme by all state governments would impose a fiscal burden of 4.5 times that of the new pension scheme (NPS), which would be an unacceptable situation.

Needs of unorganized class

It is necessary to keep in view that the significant population of India still belongs to the lower income group and out of this, the unacceptable level consists of those who are below the poverty level.  In such circumstances, there is a compulsive need for the government of India and state governments to allot and spend funds for welfare and poverty alleviation schemes.

While the government employees belong to organized class, there are an estimated 300 million people in India who belong to the unorganized class living on daily wages or are self-employed without economic and social security. The needs of such lower-income population should be prioritized much more than in meeting the desires of the government employees who are already well paid.

The widespread perception in India is that government employees are viewed as a privileged class enjoying not only good salaries and perks but also getting some sort of security in their jobs.  Most section of the youth in India aspires to get a government job and stay in the government job life long.

Certainly, when reacting to the massive indefinite strike proposal of the government employees from 1st May, the unorganised class of people would only view the government employees in the same way that workers viewed capitalists during Karl Marx's days.

Finally, government employees should be aware of the fact that as they serve in the government, they must be conscious of the needs of their fellow countrymen and discharge their duties and responsibilities keeping the welfare of the society in view. Already enjoying a good pay packet, resorting to indefinite strikes by government employees can be legitimately considered an act against the people of India.

(The author is a commentator on current affairs and a Trustee, NGO Nandini Voice for the Deprived, Chennai. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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