The indefinite strike of the contractual staff, who are pressing for introduction of the regularisation policies in the state-owned bus services in Punjab, has entered its second week on Monday with the union, spearheading the workers’ action, threatening to intensify the agitation if their demands remain unmet.
The striking workers will block national highways on September 15, claimed a leader of the Punjab Roadways/PUNBUS and PRTC Contractual Workers’ Union, if the Congress-led state government refuse to budge on union’s demands. A meeting with the government officials is scheduled to be held on September 14.
On Monday, the contractual bus employees took out a protest march across numerous cities in the state. “City marches were carried out today across the 27 bus depots in the state,” Gurpreet Singh Pannu, secretary of the contractual workers’ union told Newsclick on Monday, adding that this was in preparation for “blocking the national highways” in case a solution to the workers’ issues is not found out in the next meeting.
At least 2,400 buses of both the Punjab Roadways (PUNBUS) and PEPSU Road Transport Corporation (PRTC) have been staying off the road since September 6, after the contractual employees of these state-owned bus services declared an indefinite strike. There are around 8,000 contractual employees in both PUNBUS and PRTC, as against 500-600 permanent employees, Newsclick has learnt.
On Monday, city marches were carried out across the state by the striking bus employees. Image Courtesy - Special Arrangement
The striking contractual employees including drivers, conductors, clerical and booking staff among others are demanding the regularisation of their services. Among other demands the employees are also pressing for increasing the fleet size of government bus services to at least 10,000 and implementation of equal salary for equal work framework.
This is for the third time in this year itself when the contractual employees’ union body had to resort to a strike action in a bid to make themselves heard. Earlier, a three-day strike was staged in the month of June this year which was followed up by similar actions involving suspension of work in protest in the months later.
“We have been trying to raise our demands in a peaceful manner for quite a long period. It is high time that the state government must accept these demands otherwise we will only be forced to continue with our strike action. This time, we won’t step back,” said Pannu, speaking from the protest site in Kapurthala city.
He further explained that the issue goes back to 2003 when for the first time outsourcing of jobs was introduced in PRTC. Similarly, job outsourcing was introduced in Punjab Roadways in 2007, according to him.
“Since then, the regular jobs in the bus services have been declining,” Pannu rued, adding that due to the protest by the unions, some handful outsourced employees were brought on the roll of the transport services – but that too, only on contractual basis.
This meant, according to Pannu, that for many years the employees are being asked to continue providing their labour on contractual basis, despite the fact that they should have been regularised long back.
Under the Contract Labour Act, 1970, the principal employer is said to be under obligation to grant permanent status to the worker who has completed 240 days as being on a contract for work that is of perennial nature.
On Friday, the striking contractual employees gheraoed the Siswan farmhouse of Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amrinder Singh, demanding a meeting with him. According to Pannu, the union delegation is expecting him to be present in a meeting on September 14.
According to media reports, the indefinite strike of the contract bus employees is also causing the state-transport services daily losses worth over Rs. 18 lakh. Moreover, as the government transport services remain hit, the troubled commuters are having to shift to private operators.