By Naina Sharma
In January, Mumbai’s iconic BEST (Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport) bus workers union organized their longest strike which lasted for 9 days. Under the leadership of Shashank Rao, head of the BEST workers union, around 32,000 employees refused to work from January 8th to January 17th. Affecting 25 lakh daily commuters across Mumbai, the key reasons for the strike were inadequate salaries as well as non-payment of their bonuses. The BEST workers’ also demanded the merger of BMC and BEST budgets. The BEST union felt that merging budgets with the cash-rich BMC will help raise the standard of the BEST buses, making them more clean and hygienic with additional facilities.
The strike severely impacted the lives of two key age groups in Mumbai – College and school students, and the elderly.
BEST buses are considered Mumbai’s lifeline. The strike severely impacted the lives of two key age groups in Mumbai – College and school students, and the elderly. Many students ended up missing classes due to the strike The senior citizens avoided leaving home as they couldn’t afford other transport prices and found walking the roads dangerous. The key gainers of the strike were the Mumbai Metro and auto rickshaws. During the strike, the Mumbai Metro recorded it’s highest weekday ridership, which reached 520,000 people. To cater riders, the Mumbai Metro added 12 new trains.
Surendrakumar Bagde, BEST’s general manager, stated that he will initiate proceedings against the staffers under MESMA (Maharashtra Essential Services Maintainance Act). The act has provisions of the arrest of workers going on strike. He was quoted saying, “The industrial court has restrained the union and workers from going on strike. Since the order is in effect, there is no question of any negotiations, let them call of the strike and then come to me for any settlement.”
The Bombay High Court acted as a mediator to the strike. “Bus drivers need to be treated better,” they said, “The drivers should feel that they are treated well,” and they addressed BEST workers saying, “You are not the only union, a 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 financial condition of the BEST has deteriorated. I had given the promise of the merger of the budgets and that will be fulfilled. A solution can be found only through the talks. Even though the BEST strike issue is in the court, I am ready to be part of the discussion if necessary,” Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, said.
After they were offered a pay-hike for about 15,000 employees, and a 10 step increment, the BEST workers’ union agreed to call off the strike on Wednesday, January 16, with immediate effect.