Vaibhav Sanap | Dec 21, 2021 | 5 min read
Accusing the state of not valuing their work, especially during the pandemic, the striking staff are demanding better wages and working conditions, and a merger with the state government.
Nashik: For Class 11 girls Rutuja, Rasika, Swamini and Samiksha from Gulwanch - a village in rural Nashik, the Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) buses are a lifeline to education and a future.
They travel 30 km each day to GMD College located in Sinnar Taluka by bus to prepare for the National Cadet Course. It’s always been a safe and reliable option. “Often we stay late for training so we travel by bus even around 7-8 pm and we have never experienced any insecurity. Rape incidents occur in government buses in cities even under 24-hour CCTV surveillance. But we never hear of such incidents or complaints about MSRTC buses, even though we live in a remote area and travel late at night."
But for the two months, MSRTC workers have been on strike and there has been no bus service. “There is no safe option for us to travel now,” they said.
Started as Bombay State Road Transport Corporation (BSRTC) in 1948 and later renamed MSRTC in 1960, today the corporation has about 18,449 buses and employs one lakh people in the state. Around 87 lakh passengers are dependent on this passenger transport system every day.
With the Covid pandemic beginning to spread in early 2020, a lockdown was imposed, stranding workers from several states in Maharashtra. Soon, the state government began rescue efforts and MSRTC employees were at the heart of these efforts. The MSRTC had successfully sent back 1,31,000 sugar cutting labourers stranded in sugar factories to their hometowns. It had also sent around 73 MSRTC buses to bring back 1,780 students from Kota, Rajasthan.
Meanwhile, Mumbai’s local train system was closed, creating a strain on Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s BEST buses. To ease the burden, the Maharashtra government ordered MSRTC staff to provide services in Mumbai. However, around 250 employees died due to Covid while on duty. Only six of them received compensation.
Dissatisfied MSRTC workers launched an agitation and vowed to persevere till their demands were met. Issues such as low wages, no guarantee of safety, and lack of basic amenities while working had steadily created resentment towards MSRTC among the workers.
101Reporters visited Sinnar Bus Depot to cover a protest where conductors and drivers expressed concern about the future of their jobs at MSRTC.
Protest underway at Sinnar bus depot (above) in Nashik district (Picture credit - Vaibhav Sanap)
A fight for self-respect
Sharad Narawade is a bus conductor by profession and is the President of the MSRTC Workers Union at Sinnar Depot. He insinuated, "Our pay rise is very low compared to inflation. The government has repeatedly ignored the demands of our employees. Due to the rising inflation and low salaries, 38 employees have committed suicide so far due to debt. The families of the six have been paid and the families of the rest are still deprived of this compensation. This is the fight for our self-respect and we will not back off by mere pay raise. We want a complete merger of MSRTC into the state government. Once we are merged we will never have to agitate. We will be treated like government employees and our pay will increase automatically."
He further added “It is dangerous to drive any of these vehicles. The MSRTC employees who run the Corporation are not provided with facilities like Mediclaim. Worse, the employees are also deprived of basic facilities like water, food and toilets when they are doing their duties.”
Navnath Darade (56) has been working as a driver for the last 33 years. He will retire in the next two to four years. Speaking about his long service experience of 33 years, Darade adds, "Our bus accident rate is much lower than other passenger transport services. In my 33 years of service, I have not had a single accident but the government has never heeded our demands and it failed to recognize our efficiency and contribution to the corporation and service to the state. Today I am two to four years away from retirement and my salary is around Rs 38,000. When the bus leaves the village in the morning, we have to go to the toilet after coming to the city, which raises many health-related issues. Although MSRTC is one of the most successful corporations of the Maharashtra government, it is against our rights that Maharashtra government is not merging our corporation with them."
Navnath Darade (56) has been working as a driver in the MSRTC for the last 33 years (Picture credit - Vaibhav Sanap)
After a month-long agitation, the government has begun taking steps to end it. Transport Minister Anil Parab has taken some concrete steps regarding pay. The basic pay of new employees has been increased by an average of Rs 5,000. The basic pay of employees who have served for ten years has been increased by an average of Rs 4,000. This will further increase their basic pay by Rs 5,760 along with other allowances. The basic pay of employees who have completed 20 years of service has been increased by an average of Rs 2,500. As a result, their salary has been increased by Rs 3,600 along with other allowances. The basic pay of employees who have served for 30 years or more has been increased by an average of Rs 2,500. Therefore, they will get an increase of Rs 3,600 along with other allowances.
The government of Maharashtra have taken several steps to persuade the striking employees with higher pay and threatening them with suspension, dismissal and imposing stringent laws like the Essential Service Act (MESMA) but the state has failed to deter them as MSRTC employees have taken a firm stance that the agitation will not be withdrawn until the merger is undertaken.
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