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BEST buses to stay off roads today as 35,000 union workers go on strike

BEST buses to stay off roads today as 35,000 union workers go on strike 1

The Maharashtra government has warned of invoking Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA), 2011 against the employees on strike (Representational Image, Courtesy: Binu Varghese)

Over 3,700 buses will be off Mumbai’s roads on Monday as Brihanmumbai Electric Supply & Transport (BEST) workers union go ahead with their strike to press for their demands, including timely payment of salaries.

The strike comes on the day Raksha Bandhan is being celebrated, and is likely to inconvenience lakhs of people who were relying on the buses to reach their near and dear ones.

To tide over the crisis, the transport department has asked private bus services and state transport buses to ferry commuters. Taxi and auto unions have also been urged to keep more cars available, while private owners have been asked to carpool wherever possible.

While app-based cab services are also available, many commuters took to social media today morning to complain about surge pricing being levied on most routes, likely due to a sudden increase in number of commuters.

Over the last few days, the BEST employees and the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) have been at the loggerheads over several issues, including irregular payment of salary.

The BEST employees union led by Shashank Rao, which claims to have support of 16,500 workers, said, “We wanted a written assurance from the BMC administration but they did not give it. Now, we have decided not to report to duty from midnight. No bus will ply tomorrow.”

The Maharashtra government has warned of invoking Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act (MESMA), 2011, which will allow it to classify transport as an ‘essential service’ and take action against employees who go on strike.

“We want a solution and it lies with the BMC, which says BEST employees are its own. BEST employees should get all the facilities that a BMC employee gets. We want a letter from the the civic commissioner admitting that BEST is very much part of BMC,” he said.

The union had already announced that it would go on strike from August 7, which prompted the civic administration to hold an urgent meeting on Sunday and hold talks with the various unions of the BEST.

Around nine unions of the BEST formed an action committee, which has been holding talks with the administration.

Even Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis tried to intervene in the matter, though it failed to resolve the issue. The last meeting with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was also failed to satisfy the union, which is why it decided to go ahead with the strike.

There are over 35,000 employees working in the transport section of the BEST.

“In the last 12 years, the BEST fleet has gone up, but number of commuters is now less than 30 lakh, which was earlier over 40 lakh,” a BEST official said.

BEST general manager Surendrakumar Bagde said, “We have agreed to make payment to our employees before August 10. Similarly, BEST will pay the salary by 10th of every month. We have taken this decision irrespective of the financial crisis BEST is facing.”

As for the bailout, BMC Chief Ajoy Mehta is adamant that the civic body will only come to the undertaking’s rescue if they manage to come up with a plan on cutting down losses and increasing revenue.

The BEST has reportedly sought Rs 2,000 crore from the BMC.

“If I set out to help them for the next five years, I will need to spend Rs 10,000 crore of Mumbai tax payers’ money. It is be a debatable issue if BMC should annually help BEST,” Mehta was quoted saying.

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