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BEST bus services resume after workers call off 9-day long strike

BEST had on Tuesday agreed to grant 10 out of 20 point hike demanded by the union on the basic pay of about 15,000 of its employees from February this year.

mumbai Updated: Jan 16, 2019 16:45 IST
Kanchan Chaudhari
Kanchan Chaudhari
Hindustan Times
BEST buses parked at Wadala bus depot after BEST employees go on strike to press for several of their demands in Mumbai, India, on January 15.
BEST buses parked at Wadala bus depot after BEST employees go on strike to press for several of their demands in Mumbai, India, on January 15.(Kunal Patil/HT Photo)
         

The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) workers’ union withdrew its nine-day long strike Wednesday after some of its demands were met by Mumbai’s civic transport undertaking.

The BEST buses will start plying on roads again with immediate effect, Union leader Shashank Rao said.

The BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS), joint action committee of the unions, had called the strike to demand better wages and other benefits for 35,000 workers of the BEST Undertaking, which runs the BEST bus service and distributes electricity in the island city.

The assurance to end the strike came after BEST and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) agreed to appoint a retired high court judge to mediate with the workers instead of holding negotiations before a Bombay high-court appointed three-member committee of bureaucrats.

BEST had on Tuesday agreed to grant 10 out of 20 point hike demanded by the union on the basic pay of about 15,000 of its employees from February this year. On Wednesday, the union started with a demand of 15 point interim increment for them from January 1, 2019.

Its lawyer, advocate Neeta Karnik, pointed out that the union had in 2012 accepted roll back by 20 points, as the financial condition of the transport undertaking was not good.

“Today, we are in 2019. Seven years have passed since then. Even the last settlement with workers ended in 2016, but the undertaking is not willing to take the plight of its employees into consideration,” Karnik said.

She also demanded that a person, well versed with labour jurisprudence, must be appointed as a mediator instead of holding negotiations before the panel of bureaucrats.

BEST counsel, senior advocate MP Rao, responded by saying that the undertaking on Tuesday had agreed to the demand of 10 point hike “as a goodwill gesture” to restore normalcy by resuming the bus service.

But, Rao said, it was impossible for them to grant 15 point interim hike. He, however, agreed to the demand of mediation instead of holding negotiations before bureaucrats.

Rao also agreed to the union’s demand of taking up the issue of balance 10 point hike on basic pay on a priority basis before the mediator, and also to that of completing the mediation in a time-bound manner.

Accordingly, the high court has asked the mediator to decide upon the issues relating to interim demands within a month and all other issues, preferably within three months.

It was hearing a public interest litigation filed by advocate Datta Mane complaining about the inconvenience caused to lakhs of commuters because of the strike by BEST employees.

Acting on the PIL, the court had earlier appointed a committee headed by the chief secretary and also comprising principal secretaries of urban development and transport departments to negotiate between BEST, it’s striking employees and the BMC.

Among the demands of the employees, led by BSKKS, was higher grade pay for those recruited from 2007. They also want compassionate appointments to resume, and discussions on a new wage agreement that was to come into effect from April 2016. They have also demanded bonuses on par with BMC staffers.

Merging the budget of the loss-making BEST with the civic body’s budget is another demand. This, said labour union leaders, would end the financial woes of BEST and ensure staffers get salaries on time. The unions are also strongly against the management’s decision to get new buses on a lease.

BEST officials said that at 8am on Wednesday out of the 2,477 buses that were scheduled to ply, only nine buses operated. And 11 out of 2,958 drivers and 12 out of 3,184 conductors reported for work.

BEST is the second largest mass transport system in Mumbai after the suburban trains and ferry 25 lakh commuters every day.

First Published: Jan 16, 2019 14:27 IST

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