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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Explained: Why Maharashtra transport staff are on strike

The Bombay High Court has asked the Maharashtra government to constitute a high-level committee to decide on the demand for treating MSRTC staffers as state government employees.

Written by Vallabh Ozarkar , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: November 9, 2021 7:34:13 am
The Unions had four major demands, including hike in the dearness allowance, house rent allowance and salary increment along with the merger of MSRTC in the state government. (File Photo)

A section of employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), one of the biggest transport corporations in India, are on strike since October 27 and Monday morning, around 225 depots of the 250 across the state were shut in protest.

Being the festive season, the strike is causing hardship to commuters across the state, especially in rural Maharashtra. Monday, the HC asked the state to constitute a high-level committee to decide on the demand for treating MSRTC staffers as state government employees.

Here’s why the employees went on a strike.

What is MSRTC?

MSRTC is a state-owned transport corporation which runs inter-city and inter-state buses. It has a fleet of 16,000 buses and 96,000 employees across the state. MSRTC, which used to cater almost 68 lakh passengers daily and earn around Rs 22-24 crore daily before the pandemic, has been suffering huge losses due to the lockdowns with the ridership going down to 24-28 lakh with an earning of Rs 12 crore approximately.

Officials claim that the cumulative losses of MSRTC, which was Rs 3,500 crore before the pandemic, has gone up to over Rs 9,000 crore making it difficult for the Corporation to meet its operational costs and pay salaries of its 96,000 employees on time.

The state government provided financial assistance to MSRTC thrice in the past one and half year to pay salaries.

Why did the employees call a strike?

After the salaries were delayed due to the losses and over 30 employees died by suicide in the past one and year, several unions called for a hunger strike to be held on October 27. The action committee of Unions had four major demands, including hike in the dearness allowance, house rent allowance and salary increment along with the merger of MSRTC in the state government.

While state transport minister Anil Parab on October 25 had increased the dearness allowance by five per cent, taking it to 17 per cent from existing 12 per cent, the agitation was held on October 27 demanding the dearness allowance to be 28 per cent which is at par with state government employees along with the existing demands.

After the October 27 strike, on October 28, the action committee of union leaders held a meeting with Parab and all the three demands were accepted except for the merger issue and during the meeting, the union leaders agreed to withdraw the strike.

Why did the strike continue?

Although the union leaders agreed to withdraw the strike after the demands were accepted, a section of employees did not resume work and the strike continued with the merger demand — which according to the employees is the main demand — still in place. If fulfilled, the merger demand will apparently resolve all the remaining issues.

“Although the government accepted the other demands, the major demand was to merge the corporation which would ultimately resolve most of the issues and demands of the employees. However, the demand remained unsolved in the meeting and even after the major unions agreed to withdraw the agitation, it continued as the employees were angry and frustrated,” said a source in the union on condition of anonymity.

What did the court say on the strike?

MSRTC had approached the industrial court which had declared the strike as illegal and passed restraining orders. The two unions later announced the strike from the midnight of November 3 after which, MSRTC once again approached the Bombay High Court.

The High Court Wednesday directed all employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) to refrain from proceeding with the proposed strike or stoppage of work from the midnight of November 3 until further orders.

The court said that the move would cause “hardships” to the people who have planned to travel using the state transport’s buses during Diwali. However, from the intervening night of Sunday and Monday, the staffers once again went on strike.

On Monday, the HC asked the state to constitute a high-level committee to decide on the demand to treat MSRTC staffers as state government employees.

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