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Transport strike: It’s dead end as unions, Govt refuse to blink first

The transport corporations approached the labour commission, which declared the strike illegal. The case has now been referred to the Industries Tribunal for judgement.

Published: 18th April 2021 04:45 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th April 2021 04:45 AM   |  A+A-

With buses still staying off the road, commuters are relying on private buses for inter-and intra-state travel | Vinod Kumar T

Express News Service

BENGALURU: This is the longest strike by the unions of four state-run transport corporations in Karnataka. It’s 11 days since the agitation started, and still, neither the government nor the unions want to bend. It has reduced into a battle of egos, putting commuters and those directly and indirectly connected with the transport sector -- families of striking workers, the potters, the cleaners and the daily business units at the bus stands -- through insufferable misery.

The unions have left no elbow space for negotiations as they are firm on their demand of getting wages as per the Sixth Pay Commission, while the government has hardened its stand, filing FIRs under ESMA and dismissing unruly striking employees. The transport corporations approached the labour commission, which declared the strike illegal. The case has now been referred to the Industries Tribunal for judgement.

Transport officials said that till Friday evening, over 5,500 buses from all the four corporations -- Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Karnataka State Transport Corporation (KSRTC), North-East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC) and North West Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) -- hit the roads. To counter the effects of the strike, the government has pressed into service private buses and transport corporation vehicles from neighbouring states.

“Employees are gradually coming back to work. This means they have understood theirs and the government’s situation. Also, violent attacks on their own colleagues reveal that they have lost their battle. But it is the ego of their leaders and the misguided youth who are prolonging the strike, making matters worse,” a transport department official said.

“The unions should understand that the prime source of income for the corporations is not from the property rents earned, but from bus tickets sold. On an average day, a corporation earns Rs 17 crore from ticket sales. Though we announced no-work-no-pay, under the current situation, with about Rs 187 crore loss over the last 10 days and losses incurred due to Covid (lockdown and fewer passengers in the unlock period), paying wages to the existing staff has become difficult.

But the unions don’t seem to understand this. It is surprising that this time, trainees and probationers too have joined the strike. Since youngsters are involved, calming them down and making them understand is a challenge for the government. It is only the experienced employees who can make them see the harsh reality and end the strike. The government too hopes that, and is waiting for the model code of conduct to end to take further action,” the official added.

The four road transport corporations operate 24,000 buses and employ 1.30 lakh people. Amid the lockdown and financial crisis, the State Government released Rs 2,300 to ensure that the employees are paid. But the unions say it is not a favour, but their right.

THE BACKGROUND
The tussle is not just 10 days old. On January 20, 2020, the transport unions held a massive rally and submitted a memorandum to the state government, which sought time. The unions waited till December 2020 and again met the government, which constituted a four-member committee to look into their demands. From December 10-14, the unions held a protest and placed nine demands, giving the State Government three months to meet them. After the deadline, they again met government officials on March 16. In March last week, they announced that they would go on an indefinite strike from April 7.

The government said it met eight of the nine demands -- Arogya Bhagya scheme, inter-corporation transfers, transport allowance and direct allowance, committee to check on harassment at workplace, abolition of non-ticket issue-not-collected scheme, implementation of human resource management system for all, Covid insurance scheme covering up to Rs 30 lakh, and reduction in training period from two years to one. But the unions asserted that they were not consulted. But the one demand, and the crucial one, that the State Government is unable to meet is increasing the salaries as per the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission. For that, transport corporation employees have to be turned into government employees.

THE TRICKY ISSUE
“We agree that this is the longest and first-ever such strike in the last 40 years. We are not proud of it, but we have no choice. Our starting basic salary is Rs 12,400, while a government employee gets Rs 21,400. Pay revision is done once in four years and it is normally around 4-5 per cent, while government employees get it annually. Even after 30 years, the basic pay rises to only about Rs 30,000. Are we not entitled to better wages,” union leaders ask. 

Anand Subbarao, AICTU union head, who has withdrawn from the strike, said the fault lies on both sides. The unions called for a strike at the wrong time and left no scope for negotiations, while the government instead of negotiating at the beginning tried to handle the situation diplomatically. The government instead of forming the four-member committee should have said no to the Sixth Pay Commission and negotiated the wages.”

He said, “There are 74 corporations in the state. If the demand of the transport corporation employees is agreed to and they are turned into government employees, other corporation employees too will demand it, burdening the government financially. One-time settlements have been made in 2012 and in 2016, and could have been done again. But no one is willing to bend. The unions can still return to work as the matter is in the industries tribunal where they can fight it out. In 2004, we had gone to the Tribunal against a 5 per cent wage revision and got it increased to 20 per cent. The government has also not given functional autonomy to the corporations. There is no professional management in the corporations to handle the present situation.” 

A MODEL TO FOLLOW?
The unions in Karnataka are following the Telangana model. The unions there had gone on strike for 52 days and had returned to work after that. “Looking at the plight of the senior employees in the corporation, the youth were slowly pushing for their demands. But now due to misguided union leaders, who have no knowledge of how corporations work, the strike has intensified so much that on Friday, a 59-year-old driver in Jamkhandi died in a stone-throwing incident.

Over the last 40-50 years, the situation of transport corporations has improved, but fleet exchange needs to improve. The strike should have ended when the chief minister agreed to an 8-10 per cent wage revision. They must understand that they are a corporation and not government employees. Corporations came into existence under the Motor Vehicles Act and have different rules and powers. At a time of national/worldwide crises, rise in wages should not be asked, 6th Pay Commission is not possible,” says former transport minister and JDS leader PGR Sindhia.

Inputs from Ramakrishna Badsheshi and Mallikarjun Hiremath



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