BEST bus drivers need to be treated better, HC tells state
Strike Enters Eighth Day: Civic Pay Disparity Key Issue
With the BEST strike continuing, 25 lakh commuters are set to face an eighth day of hardship. On Monday, the high court asked the union and authorities to take a conciliatory approach. Also, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and the CM spoke on phone on the issue, said sources.
“The drivers should feel like they are treated well,” said a division bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Nitin Jamdar. The bench asked if the issue of junior grade workers could be looked into on priority, but also told the agitators “you are not the only union”. “Strike is not the only remedy. For agitating on issues of pay hike and emoluments, there are appropriate forums. What if every union decides to go on strike? There will be serious repercussions. How will the city run?” the bench said.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Datta Mane seeking an end to the strike. Last week, on the orders of the court, the state set up a committee to bring about a settlement between the union and the authorities. The panel’s report, which needs to be submitted on Tuesday as per the HC’s deadline, is likely to mention a conciliatory approach by the government to end the impasse.
Advocate general Ashutosh Kumbhakoni told the court that the panel was "surprised" that the union has not called off the strike. "As the state, we want the strike, which is illegal, to end," said Kumbhakoni. "The union has made a point and the strike cannot continue. It will set a bad precedent. Lakhs of commuters are inconvenienced, including maids who take BEST buses.”
On the state's backup plan, the advocate said around 2,500 school, private and state transport buses had been deployed on city roads.
Senior advocates A Y Sakhare and Darius Khambata, counsels for BMC and BEST, urged the court to declare the strike illegal. They termed the union's action as "blackmail" and said it could not be expected to negotiate "with a gun to its head".
The bench said it was not going into the issue of legality of the strike. "We have created a platform for the parties to negotiate," the judges said and asked the union and the authorities to have discussions to arrive at a solution.
The union’s counsel, advocate Neeta Karnik, said workers were seeking an end to pay disparity as half the staff was earning less than basic wages. “Entry level staff in BMC's sanitation department are earning Rs 22,000 a month, whereas BEST junior grade staff, including drivers, get a salary of Rs 15,000,” she said.
In the morning, the union met the state panel headed by chief secretary D K Jain at Mantralaya. “It was almost similar to Saturday's meeting. We explained why 32,000 workers are seeking a merger of budgets and wage settlement, and why we are against wet leasing/privatisation, which will ruin BEST” said union leader Shashank Rao.
Once again, school buses came to the rescue of BEST commuters on Monday