A country that has no regard for the value of human labour
Other CSAs have even taken out loans and borrowed from friends and relatives just to be able to make it to work, failing which they will end up losing more money for their absence.Updated: May 05, 2019, 02:13 IST
Earlier this week, I received a flurry of calls and frantic messages from at least half a dozen bus conductors, all enrolled with the Gurugram Metropolitan City Bus Limited’s Gurugaman bus service as customer service assistants (CSA). They were in a tight spot, not having received their wages in over two months, and were wondering if the issue was newsworthy.
I had reported about this last year as well, when their salaries had been withheld during August and September, around the time the bus service was launched. Several of them narrated their hardships to me, over hours of phone calls, giving them company on duty, and conversations over cups of tea at the Sector 10 bus depot.
Many conductors have told me they are the sole earners in their family, supporting multiple relatives on just over Rs 17,000 per month. “Food, electricity, water, rent, medicines, children’s education... Imagine putting all this on hold for two months, and not knowing when money will come in next,” one of them said, asking me to withhold his name.
This situation had also brought another issue to the fore for many CSAs: transport. The majority of them, who are contracted to the GMCBL via a private company, are not, in fact, residents of Gurugram. Some travel from Manesar, while others live even farther, in the neighbouring districts of Rewari and Jhajjar.
“Getting to work and getting home is our responsibility entirely. It takes a lot of energy, time and money,” another conductor said to me as he was wrapping up an afternoon shift before heading back to his village in Rewari. He estimated that he spends almost a third of his salary just travelling back and forth, leaving only about ₹12,000 for household expenditure.
“When salaries were halted, I’d wake up and not have enough money to take the Haryana Roadways bus. I would start from my house an hour earlier than usual to be able to hitch a ride to Gurugram,” he told me, asking if I would be able to manage that kind of strain. I certainly wouldn’t.
Other CSAs have even taken out loans and borrowed from friends and relatives just to be able to make it to work, failing which they will end up losing more money for their absence. In the face of this financial and physical exhaustion, the sense of urgency in their calls and messages to me earlier this week was palpable. One message I received said, “Please help. Things are looking quite bad for us. If we are not paid soon, we will have to take more serious action.” Others were full of language I can’t reproduce here.
As of Saturday, all 162 conductors have received their pending dues, and are breathing sighs of relief. According to the GMCBL, the salaries were delayed due to a technical issue. A few of them even reached out on WhatsApp to convey their thanks. However, the fear of whether their salaries would be deposited duly each month has only gotten worse. “Imagine having to approach the press, hoping it would help us get the money that is already due to us. It says a lot about how our labour is valued,” another conductor said, the tone of resignation heavy in his voice.