BEST bus driv­ers need to be treated bet­ter, HC tells state

Strike En­ters Eighth Day: Civic Pay Dis­par­ity Key Is­sue

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES CITY - Shibu Thomas, Somit Sen & Bhavika Jain

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

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