The deadlock between Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) undertaking workers and management continued for the better part of Wednesday, inconveniencing several commuters for the second day in a row. The workers, however, ended their agitation after a meeting with the chief secretary and BEST administration, where it was decided that the new work schedule, to be implemented from April 2, would be postponed to June 1.
In the meantime, BEST would conduct a “pilot project” at Malad bus depot from April 7 to test the new schedule before it is implemented in all 26 depots.
Though 11 conductors and nine drivers reported to work on Wednesday morning, none of the scheduled 3,500 buses ran. BEST suffered losses of Rs 7crore in the past two days.
BEST threatened to invoke various sections of the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) if the drivers and conductors continued their strike. “The administration has invoked Sections 8, 9, 10, 11and 12 of MESMA against drivers and conductors who are participating in, supporting and instigating others to join the strike,” said a BEST spokesperson, adding that those refusing to report to duty could face suspension of up to two months or jail for one year or both. At the meeting later in the day, Chief Secretary J S Saharia said no action was taken against the striking employees.
Following the strike on Tuesday, BEST had moved the High Court urging it to restrain the union from asking its members to remain absent from duty. Justice N M Kamdar had asked BEST Workers’ Union to issue a statement asking its members to accept their new attendance cards and resume service.
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On Wednesday, BEST’s counsel M P Rao moved the division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and M S Sanklecha. He told the bench that over 3, 000 buses had stopped plying, inconveniencing lakhs of commuters. The bench asked the union and the transport authority to work out a solution.
Rao told the bench that a meeting between BEST officials and members of the worker’s union was going on. The court then asked the parties to inform it by 5 pm about the meeting’s progress.
Around 5 pm, Rao informed the court that BEST had decided to postpone the new schedule till June 1. The court disposed of the matter and said, “Office bearers of BEST workers’ union will issue instructions to workers immediately.” Saharia said, “It was unanimously decided in the meeting that the working hours of BEST staff will be rescheduled and applicable from June 1.”
Following the meeting, union leader Sharad Rao said they had no problem with the 12-hour duty time but were opposed to the spread-over of duties.
Sharad Rao and Sunil Ganacharya of BEST Kamgar Sena were present at the meeting along with O P Gupta, general manager, BEST.
According to the Mumbai traffic police, several parts of the city, including highways and arterial roads, reported major traffic jams as more people took their vehicles to work. Officials said the situation was chaotic during the peak hours between 9 am and noon.