NEW DELHI: Workers of Delhi Transport Corporation (DTC), once a lifeline for Delhiites, are gearing up for a strike after facing the onslaught of anti-worker policies of the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party government.
Chanting “Abhi karo, urgent karo, sabko permanent karo”, ( Make all workers permanent) Ankit, a conductor brought Namak-Roti-Mirch (salt-chapati-chillies) to the Indraprastha bus depot on Monday to highlight the abysmal wages that contract workers are paid after the AAP government decided to slash wages of DTC workers by a massive 25%.
Also Read: Why Are AAP And DTC Silent Over The Demands Of Contractual Workers?
Ankit told NewsClick: “I now get Rs 481 per day. My entire budget stands disrupted. We are now forced to consider how much our families will eat, kabhi bhi kharch chalane ki itni mushkil nahi hui ( I have never faced such a financial crunch like this earlier.”
Rajesh from the DTC Unity Centre added, “The crackdown by the government is forcing us to reach a suicidal stage.”
Over a thousand DTC workers, most of them on contract, like Ankit and Rajesh, took to the streets and staged a dharna outside the IP depot in the city on Monday. The protest comes ahead of the strike announced by DTC workers on the October 29.
Also Read: DTC Workers Vote for Historic Strike on October 29
Abhishek, a member of the AICCTU (All India Central Council of Trade Unions) said, “With the protest today, we had hoped that we will be able to shake the conscience of the dumb management and the government. However, our pleas seem to have fallen on deaf ears since there hasn’t been any response from either.”
Instead of engaging with the protesting workers, who did not turn up for their duties as a mark of protest, the DTC administration issued a letter intimidating the workers of “consequences, such as the loss of service, break in service and other disciplinary action.”
Shweta of AICCTU pointed out the double standards of the administration and added, “They are intimidated by the sheer strength of the protesters.”
The ongoing agitation of DTC workers has gained momentum since August this year after the Kejriwal government decided to cut daily wages of contractual workers attached to DTC by about ₹3,500-4,500 per month. The move came into effect on August 5, after the Delhi High Court quashed a March 2017 notification of revising the minimum wages for unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers in the city, saying that it was “ultra vires Article 14” of the Constitution of India.
Agitated by the 'betrayal' of promises made by the AAP government, the DTC workers have been holding regular strikes. In a historic move, a strike ballot was conducted in the last week of September across depots, which saw the participation of over 12,000 employees. In the four days of voting, 10,254 votes were cast and about 98.2 % voted in favour of the strike on October29.
The demands of the workers are not limited to their rejection of the reduction in the wages but also the discrimination faced by them when they work for the same hours as permanent workmen. Contractual employees, conservative estimates state, number over 10,000 and a majority of them are employed as conductors.
Ankit, a conductor said, “Coming to work is an ordeal, we work the same hours or even more as the permanent employees, I leave my house sometimes at 3 in the morning and come to the depot only to ensure that I get to drive. However, on most days I don't even get that, which is why we are demanding permanency of work.”
The call for the protest was supported by the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, DTC Workers Unity Centre, and All India Contractual Ekta Mission .
In a massive show of solidarity, protesting workers of the Haryana Roadways were also present at the protest. Highlighting the brazen attempts of the BJP government to crush the movement in Haryana, Sumesh Kaushik said, “The government wants to simply isolate the common people from the transport services in an attempt to privatise it and to sell it off to the corporates.” Shedding light on the movement in Haryana, he added, “The government is doing all it can to crush our movement, our unions were sealed, our workers were arrested, but we are fighting for our rights and we will continue to do so.”
The deduction of wages, denial of permanent employment and attempts to privatise the already ailing DTC are being seen as a major betrayal of promises by the ambitious Kejriwal government. The workers are up in arms against the government after the wages were reversed to the amount of the wages paid in 2016, the DTC also decided to deduct the extra wages paid for 13 days in August from the workers’ salaries in the coming months.
The upcoming strike will be the first ever major strike after the one in 1988.