BEST staff’s demand will put Rs 900 crore burden on debt-ridden management
BEST workers, who are on strike since Monday midnight, want salary of around 14,000 junior grade workers to be revised, besides the interim pay hike for all employees.Updated: Jan 10, 2019 10:56 IST
Even as the survival of Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking is at stake owing to its poor financial state, labour unions that are on strike since Monday midnight want salary of around 14,000 junior grade workers to be revised, besides the interim pay hike for all employees.
This demand of the BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS), the joint action committee of labour unions in the undertaking, is the main reason behind the current stalemate. The debt-ridden BEST management is hesitant to accept the labour union’s demand, as it will put an estimated burden of Rs 900-crore on the cash-strapped undertaking.
BEST is the second largest mode of public transport in the city, which ferries around 29 lakh passengers daily, with its fleet of 3337 buses. It has a workforce of more than 35,000 employees.
It is learnt from BEST officials and union activists that from the first round of negotiations with the management itself, BSKKS raised the demand for ‘master grade’ of Rs 7,930 (as base pay) for around 14,000 junior grade officials recruited since 2007. The action committee has also asked for an interim hike of Rs 8,500 for all employees, until the wage agreement is signed. The agreement is pending since 2016.
Ashish Chemburkar, chairman of BEST panel, who mediated the talks between the unions and management, said, “If the demands are accepted, it will put a burden of Rs 900 crore on BEST. The undertaking is not in a position to pay the current salaries of its staff.”
A senior official said BEST was going through a financial crisis since April 2017, with a loan burden of ₹2,500 crore, besides a cumulative loss of Rs 1,800 crore. It is unable to pay workers’ salaries, and retirement benefits such as gratuity, in time.
A union activist said, “The 14,000 employees working on junior grade get a monthly salary of Rs 10,000 - Rs 12,000 (base pay of Rs 5,430) after provident fund and other cuts. So the unions are demanding master grade. The total burden of the demand is less than Rs 200 crore a year. The management is presenting inflated figures.”
Shashank Rao, the leader of the union, blamed BEST management for prolonged talks. “We are ready to negotiate, but the management did not get back to us with their proposal,” he said.
According to BEST officials, the unions are fighting for salary hike mainly because the number of junior grade officials is high compared to the total employees. To attract these employees working on various posts such as conductor, driver and other posts, the unions have taken up this issue. This will help increase their membership, necessary for showing their strength, senior officials claimed.
First Published: Jan 10, 2019 10:55 IST