ON THE third day of the near-total strike by the employees of the state bus transport corporation, amid severe inconvenience to passengers across Maharashtra during festival time, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis held discussions with state Transport Minister Diwakar Raote to defuse the situation. As no outcome emerged, employees remained on strike on Thursday. The strike is expected to continue till Friday.
Nearly 1 lakh employees of the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) are on strike to demand salaries in accordance with the Seventh Pay Commission recommendations. On Wednesday, a 12-hour marathon meeting between Raote and various employee unions did not yield an outcome. The discussion was finally called off at 12.45 am on Thursday after the transport minister directed that discussions continue only after the strike is called off. “The unions refused to withdraw the strike until their demands are met. The corporation finds it difficult to grant the hike they are demanding,” a senior MSRTC official said.
“We tried to present the options with the maximum possible hike. But the unions remain dissatisfied with the amount sanctioned. We have tried to offer the maximum hike ever in the 77-year history of the organisation. We appeal to them to withdraw the strike,” an official statement from Raote said.
The corporation had agreed to pay a hike of up to 33 per cent on the basic pay of the salaries of each employee, ranging between Rs 4,700-Rs 15,000 depending upon the grade and seniority of the staffer. “We were not called for any discussion on Thursday. As our demands have not been met, the strike continues,” an ST driver from Mumbai participating in the strike said.
Meanwhile, as the strike continued to inconvenience lakhs of commuters, with only 14 buses plying statewide, the department tried to arrange for home guards from different regions, equipped with badges and licences, to operate the buses, but without success. None of the regions could arrange for the numbers required. “Nanded region offered five home guards. However, none of the other regions we applied to is able to meet our requirement of home guards. We are unable to ply buses,” an MSRTC official said.
As a result, commuters were forced to cancel outings or had to struggle to find bookings and reservations on other modes of transport. “The private buses’ fares just rose sharply. They are also running on full occupancy. We prefer to be at home instead,” said Manoj Nikam, a resident of Mumbai who wanted to visit his village in Pen on Thursday, but eventually cancelled the plan. The MSRTC has a fleet of around 19,000 buses. Every day, it ferries more than 60 lakh passengers on intra-city and inter-city routes, besides providing bus services in Vasai-Virar, Nalasopara and Nashik.