Taking a tough stand, the Tamil Nadu government on Saturday asked agitating transport workers to resume work by tomorrow or face departmental action as the indefinite strike by some transport unions over wage-related issues entered the third day.
State Transport Minister M R Vijayabaskar said many staff have returned to work today and expressed confidence that normal operations could resume tomorrow.
"Many have returned today. We believe (more of them) will come tomorrow also. If not, departmental action will be initiated as per law," he told reporters in Karur.
The minister claimed that despite the stir, 80 per cent buses were running in the state.
"Many are getting back to work today considering the wage revision offered by us, besides respecting the High Court directive in this regard yesterday," he said.
Reacting to the governments warning, M Shanmugam, the General Secretary of DMK-backed Labour Progressive Federation), said, "We know how to face them, we have faced them (in the past)."
"We are not going to withdraw the strike till our problems end," he told reporters in Chennai after a consultative meeting with other trade unions.
Shanmugam said it has been decided that various central trade unions such as CITU and AITUC will stage state-wide protests on January 8 in support of the striking transport workers.
About some transport divisions reportedly issuing notices to their employees on the strike seeking their response, he said "such action is normal" during protests like these.
"We will not budge. The strike will continue. The 2.57 factor (a wage determination technique) is our demand and talks should be held for that," he said.
He also took exception to deploying temporary drivers for transporting passengers, saying there was a risk of accidents in this.
Meanwhile, the Opposition DMK once again urged the government to hold talks with the trade unions and end the impasse.
DMK Working President and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly M K Stalin spoke to Chief Minister K Palaniswami over the phone and urged the government to hold talks with the trade unions to end the stalemate.
Buses were being operated in some parts of the state with temporary drivers and conductors.
In Coimbatore, Tirupur, Nilgiris and Salem districts, a majority of the buses stayed off roads. Some government buses, operated by staff affiliated to the ruling AIADMK, were operational.
A similar situation prevailed in Erode district, where authorities appointed temporary drivers and operated some buses.
The transport department had earlier invited those with valid driving license to approach the local depots for this purpose.
A majority of the people continued to rely on trains, autorickshaws and private buses for their daily commute.
Meanwhile, the Southern Railway, in an official release, said, "It is decided to operate weekday services instead of weekend reduced services in Chennai Beach-Tambaram and MRTS suburban sector to accommodate extra rush in view of the strike."
Tomorrow, the frequency of local trains will be every 10 minutes on Chennai Beach-Tambaram section, instead of every 20 minutes, and a train every 15 minutes on MRTS section instead of every 20 minutes, it said.
Suburban services will also operate normally on Chennai Central (Moore Market Complex)-Gummidipundi/Sullurupetta, Chennai-Beach-Tambaram/Chengalpattu sections and Chennai Beach-Velachery MRTS, today and tomorrow, the release said.
As many as 17 trade unions had launched an indefinite strike since Thursday night, with scores of Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation (TNSTC) joining the protest.
The striking unions want the factor for wage revision to be fixed at 2.57 times while government insisted it be 2.44.
Yesterday, the Madras High Court had issued an interim order restraining the employees from striking work.
Later, the government also issued an ultimatum, asking the workers to return to work, else it will not hesitate to take action as per law.
The trade unions had, however, said their agitation would continue till their demands on wage revision were met by the state government.
The unions, including DMK-affiliated LPF and CITU, rejected the state governments ultimatum to return to work or face "consequences" and also claimed they had not received the court order.