Roadways staff strike disrupts Punjab bus service for hours; commuters harried
Patiala/Bathinda/Amritsar/Jalandhar Contract and outsourced employees of State Transport Undertakings (STUs) laid siege to bus stands across Punjab for over four hours on Thursday. Nearly 8,200 employees under this category for the Pepsu Road Transport Corporation (PRTC), the Punjab Roadways and the Punbus have been protesting for regularisation of service, as they have been working for over 10 years.
The protest caused huge inconvenience to commuters. The service, mainly of private operators resumed only after 2pm, with protesters blocking entry and exit since 10am.
Responding to the protest, the state government has directed managements of STUs to take immediate steps for resumption of bus services. Protesters, however, claimed they would surround chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s farmhouse in Siswan on Friday.
Harkesh Kumar, state secretary, Punjab Roadways, Punbus and PRTC Contract Workers Union, said outsourced employees have received warning letters from the company that PRTC had hired, to resume work or face termination. “Employees are being threatened that their contract will be terminated if they fail to return to their jobs by Friday. Punjab Roadways is also planning to open fresh recruitment, on contract, of over 700 new drivers and conductors,” Kumar added.
The other major demands of the staff are checking the transport mafia; streamlining of daily hourly roster; strengthening state transport undertakings, implementation of equal work equal pay and to stop unnecessary harassment of employees on day-to-day reports.
Private buses overcrowded; revenue loss of 80%
With most state buses staying off road in south Malwa, private buses were overcrowded, leading to the violation of the key Covid-19 guideline of social distancing. Protesting employees shut the entry of the Bathinda bus stand for over two hours, hitting traffic movement as well on the Bathinda Dabwali road.
Bathinda depot general manager Raman Sharma said of 190 buses at the local depot, only 25 were in service on Thursday. “The average daily income of Bathinda depot from the sale of tickets dropped from ₹35 lakh to 7 lakh. We are trying to deploy at least one bus on key routes with regular staff and some of those on contract,” said Sharma.
In Amritsar, protesters blocked the Amritsar bus stand for at least five hours on Thursday morning by parking their vehicles on bus counters. Private operators also could not run their buses. Heavy police force was deployed at the bus stand to avert clashes between employees and private bus employees. Traffic was diverted.
“The government wants to handover the department to private firms, but we will not let it happen,” said Sukchain Singh, of Amritsar Punjab Roadways Union.
In Jalandhar, Contract Workers’ Union president Gurpreet Singh said, “We will not let bus service resume till our demands are not met.” Women claimed that private bus operators charged them money, as otherwise the government bus service is free for them. Students wanting to travel to educational institutions were also hassled.