Ten major unions had called for the one-day Friday walkout after negotiations over wages with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley failed, reports said.
Media cited labor union officials as saying that about 180 million government employees working in public sector banks, schools, postal services, hospitals, power plants and mines were taking part in the 24-hour nationwide industrial action. However, the number of workers on strike is not verified yet.
Ramen Pandey of the Indian National Trade Union Congress said the strike would be "the world's largest ever."
The unions have presented a charter of 12 demands, which includes a monthly minimum wage of Rs 18,000 (USD 270) and a pension of Rs 3,000 (USD 45). In addition to a pay hike, union leaders want the government to cancel plans to shut down state factories not making profit, raise foreign investment caps in some industries and sell off stakes in state-run companies.
The Center of Indian Trade Unions said the strikers wanted "an end to the all-round attack launched by the government against their lives, livelihood and dignity." The labor unions accuse the government of taking side with the huge corporations in a "vile conspiracy... to privatize the public sector and invite foreign capital in some parts of industry."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's controversial labor reforms and plans to sell off government stakes to the private sector have been a source of suspicion among the people. Modi’s rise to power in 2014 was founded on promises of reviving the country’s economy.