Mumbai: Over 32,000 employees of Mumbai’s civic transport undertaking went on an indefinite strike on Tuesday over various demands, including higher salaries.
The protest by the employees of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) coincided with the two-day nationwide strike called by trade unions to protest the government’s alleged anti-worker policies and unilateral labour reforms.
The indefinite strike by the BES and BEST employees prompted the state government to invoke the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA) against them.
The strike left nearly 25 lakh daily commuters suffering, with some of them complaining that autorickshaw drivers were trying to take advantage of the situation and were charging five times more than the normal rates.
The employees are demanding higher salaries, merging budget of the loss-making transport undertaking with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), deliberations on new wage agreement, resuming appointments on compassionate grounds and a bonus equivalent to that of the civic body’s employees.
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 red-colour buses, which criss-cross the metropolis and also operate services in the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai. It is the second-biggest mode of transport in Mumbai after local trains, which ferry over 80-lakh passengers every day.
A meeting was held between Brihanmumbai Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta and leaders of the workers’ union that has called the strike but failed to arrive at a conclusion.
BEST workers’ union leader Shashank Rao said since their meeting with Mehta failed to yield any positive outcome, they were continuing with the strike. He said a final decision to end the strike depended on how the administration responds to their demands.
A BEST spokesperson said as many as 10 buses were ransacked in different depots by unidentified persons during the night, but no untoward incident was reported since morning.
Meanwhile, the Central Railway, Western Railway and the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) were operating extra local trains and buses to ferry the stranded passengers to their destinations.
Several commuters were seen rushing to hitch share autorickshaw rides and some walked to their workplaces.
In October last year, the BJP government in Maharashtra had given Rs 5,500 to each employee of BEST as Diwali bonus. The move that left the discontent BEST employees elated, had cost Rs 25 crore to the state government.