Even after the warning of action by the state government and also the Bombay High Court, Maharashtra's state transport (ST) employees haven't backed off. They are continuing with their strike with the demand to merge their corporation directly into state government. Out of 250 depots all over the state, 240 were shut on Monday, November 8, highlighting the widespread character of the strike.
On Monday, the Bombay High Court asked the state government to form a committee to find solutions to the demands of employees. As per its order, the state government came out with a GR (government resolution), constituting a three-member committee under the chairmanship of the Maharashtra chief secretary. The unions, 28 in number, however, decided in a meeting to continue the strike.
"Nothing is going to happen after the GR. The state government did the same trick in 2018. Our demands to clear arrears, implant the seventh pay commission and merge the state corporation into state government are still pending. So the strike will continue," said Shashank Rao, general secretary of Sangharsh ST Labourers’ Union.
Meanwhile, the state transport minister Anil Parab alleged that the opposition BJP is trying to scuttle the strike. “Unions had accepted the committee formation in court. We issued GR as per court orders. But they went back on their word,” Parab told NewsClick.
“All other demands are accepted. But the decision of merger is not something that could be done in one day. The committee will study and come up with solutions. It will take time," added Parab.
Meanwhile, suicide attempts by ST employees continue into the 15th day of the strike. On Monday, Peter Desouza, a driver in Sindhudurg's Vengurla depot and Ashok Komatwar, a helper in Beed depot tried to commit suicide. They were saved by their colleagues. “I have to feed my family. The salary is so less that I can't look after them. No bank gives me a loan,” said Peter after he was taken to hospital.
ST corporation was earning Rs 23 crore per day before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. In the lockdown, its income fell to Rs 2 crore a day. It is now gradually reviving and getting Rs 13 to 14 crore per day. ST needs Rs 270 crore per month to clear salaries. The merger with the state government will give ST employees the status of state government employees. As they are now employees of a state transport corporation, they are not getting benefits of an ensured salary in line with pay commission recommendations.
The strike has entered into its 15th day on Tuesday. Will the state government come up with a decision or at least announcement of a merger? Or will the High Court force the employees to join duty? These are some of the key questions for the coming days for the ST employees.