Editorial – Teachers’ Strike

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Government colleges in Manipur continue to be paralysed even after months on account of the cease work strike by college teachers under the banner of the College Teachers’ Association, COTA. The teachers are demanding pay hike at a par with what the 6th Pay Commission recommended for Central government employees. While other state government employees had been given the raise, it is intriguing why from amongst them all, college teachers have been left out. Is the government saying these colleges have, like the government schools, died or are on the verge of dying, with practically no students enrolled in them. If so, it is the duty of the government to without further delay, rationalise the employment structure in this sector, as it did with its schools. This would practically mean removing excess fat so that the end result is leaner, meaner but much fitter and more efficient institutions of learning. This no doubt will be an easy decision, for there will be objections from those who end up culled. However, if it is to be done, it should be done. Once such a rationalisation has been ensured, the government must give the pay parity that the teachers are demanding.

The chief minister, Okram Ibobi, in a public address did once clarify a bit on the issue, saying that his government was not totally averse to giving the teachers a raise, but given the resources in the government’s hands, was not in a position to make this raise at a par with the 6th Pay Commission recommendations. Instead, he further clarified his government had offered to pay as much as government college teachers of other states. It may be noted that teachers in Meghalaya till only recently were on the 4th Pay Commission salaries and were agitating for a raise to the 5th, hence the chief minister’s offer does not seem altogether unreasonable. However, if the teachers were to be given this treatment, the government should have also done the same with its other employees. You cannot have different standards of employment conditions for different employees can you? We wish the government comes to live within its means and that its employees understand the limitations of their employers’ resources as well. The state still remembers with dread the aftermath ten years ago of the then state government’s decision to implement the 5th Pay Commission’s pay hike recommendations without first taking stock of its resources. Government salaries were delayed for months depressing the market and putting low income, non-government employees into extreme difficulties. Pitiable sights of pensioners queuing up whole nights outside banks in anticipation of pay distribution the next day had also become common. We hope the state never gets to see such days again, and towards this, it needs the government and its employees to honestly see each others’ needs and limitations, and thereby agree on a settlement on that is most just. Salaries do not always have to be at a par with Central pay.

This last statement however is easier said than done. State and Central government employees often work under the same roof and handle virtually the same responsibility. While nobody would make an issue of slight differences in pays and perks between the two sets of employees, it is when these differences become too wide that trouble can be expected. The fact is, there is a growing disparity between various regions of the country. Differences in salaries between employees of rich and poor states are hence to be expected and indeed this reality has elicited little frowns. However, the aggregate wealth of the nation also lifts up the resources of the Central government, so that in the end, it is only the employees of poor states which get left behind thus causing the kind of problems that states like Manipur faces every time a pay commission propose a raise in the salaries of Central government employees. This issue must be addressed adequately and in this the state government must take the lead. It is perfectly reasonable for it to ask the Central government to consider raising its entitlements after each pay commission makes a recommendation for pay hike so that it too can maintain some semblance of pay parity for its employees with their Central government counterparts.

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