India

Millions strike in India over reforms

A "strike" placard is fixed onto the padlocked gate of a public sector bank during a nationwide strike called by 10 major trade unions over wages and economic reforms, in Chennai on September 2, 2016. Image copyright AFP
Image caption Banks, like this one in the city of Chennai, were shut during the strike

Tens of millions of workers in India are on a day-long strike demanding higher wages and to protest against the government's economic reforms.

Banks, government offices and factories are shut, while public transport is also disrupted in parts of the country.

The government says the reforms are needed to bolster the economy.

But trade unions say the government has not addressed the demands of the workers in banking, telecommunication and manufacturing industries.

They also oppose a government directive to state-run pension funds to put more money into stock markets.

'Vile conspiracy'

Tapan Sen, general secretary of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, told the BBC that more than 150 million workers in different industries were on strike.

But there has been no independent corroboration of the numbers given by the unions.

Mr Sen's union has accused the government of a "vile conspiracy... to privatise the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry".

Image copyright AP
Image caption Government workers participated in a protest in Mumbai
Image copyright AFP
Image caption A worker rests on a luggage cart in the southern city of Secunderabad
Image copyright AFP
Image caption A deserted railway station in the north-eastern state of Tripura
Image copyright Manoj Dhaka
Image caption Transport workers in Haryana state are on strike
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Commuters wait for public transport in Kolkata
Image copyright EPA
Image caption ...where the central bank office was shut

Banks, shops and schools shut down in parts of the country, including in the southern Karnataka and Kerala states, where public transport was also disrupted, according to reports.

News channels showed flag-waving protesters squatting on railway tracks in the states of Orissa and West Bengal.

More than 20 protesters were arrested after they damaged two government buses in West Bengal, senior police official Anuj Sharma told AFP.

Ten major unions called the strike after talks with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley broke down, with leaders rejecting his offer to raise the minimum wage for unskilled workers, reports said.

"This strike is against the central government, this strike is for the cause of the working people," Ramen Pandey of the Indian National Trade Union Congress told the AFP news agency.

"Our strike will be 100% successful... we will prove that this strike is the world's largest ever."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Stranded passengers at a railway station in Bangalore

Since taking charge in May 2014, PM Narendra Modi's BJP government has initiated economic reforms and is trying to ease labour laws to attract foreign investment and make it easier to do business in the country.

The government also plans to sell its stake in state-owned companies, which are incurring heavy loses.