Over the past few days, City Express has brought you a glimpse of commuters, road users and law enforcement officials on errant MTC drivers who do not follow road rules. But it turns out that the drivers may not be complete villains after all.
The drivers blame most of their red-light-jumping, rule-breaking and rash driving on stress. They say existing policies within the MTC on staff welfare, collections, maintenance of time, promotions, recruitment and extended work hours all contribute to the stress they face on a daily basis.
Take MTC driver Senthil Kumaran for instance. He claims he has worked for the past three months without leave. He says he gets called in for duty even on his weekly days off, thanks to a labour shortage. “Working without leave makes me even more stressed,” he says.
Unionists working with the transport sector say labour shortage is not a problem that has cropped up all of sudden. They claim it has gradually gotten worse over the past decade, with no solution in sight. “Transport is very much a labour-oriented industry. Until 2003, MTC had two shifts. In those days, there were 7.5 workers per vehicle. This included drivers, conductors, technicians, supervisors and administrative persons. In 2003, the number of workers per vehicle was brought down to 6.5 persons per vehicle. This created a labour shortage, which in turn led to a denial of leave for the employees, which in turn increased the stress,” says Shanmugam, general secretary of a transport workers union.
He adds that the labour shortage is getting worse each year, with vacancies caused by retirements not being filled up. Each vacancy means the employees who continue on the job have to stretch themselves to meet the constantly increasing workflow requirements. Drivers too end up losing their leave days in this way.
Another major complaint of MTC employees is that they are not being paid their overtime wages properly. They say the increased number of shifts has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in the disbursement of overtime wages.
“If the bus breaks down, the driver is expected to complete his shift, which ends only when he gets the vehicle back to the depot. It doesn’t matter if he has clocked in the number of hours he was actually expected to do. Add this to the disillusionment of not being paid their overtime wages properly, and you have a lack of interest in the job which leads to accidents,” says Anbazhagan, a top official of a transport employees union.
A change in the mindset of MTC officials is also to blame for the ever-increasing pressure on MTC drivers, say the unionists. They say there is constant pressure on the staff to increase the total distance covered on a route. This means more extended services.
Take the ‘11A’ bus route for instance, which runs from T Nagar to Broadway. Employees say there is pressure on them from the management to extend the run up to Vallalar Nagar to increase fare collections. Anbzhagan claims that this is true of 90 percent of bus services today.
This not only leads to pressure in terms of longer routes and work hours, but also rising pressure to ensure higher fare collections to offset rising diesel prices. Further, there is also the question of fines, which drivers say are deducted from their salaries if they do not reach a specified spot by the designated time. These deductions, claim drivers, do not take traffic congestion into account.
Another issue that is causing heartburn among the drivers is the fact that the MC has changed the way it decides on the kind of services to run. Till about 15 years back, senior drivers and conductors were promoted as traffic managers.
It would be their responsibility to use their practical experience to reduce congestion during peak hours by arranging cut services and preparing route charts. But this job is now being done by engineers who have no experience or understanding of the running of bus services, says a unionist.
MTC employees have a long list of other grouses. Some of them are the non-functioning of grievance committees in depots, which means their problems remain unattended. Little wonder then, they claim, that drivers would be stressed out.