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Karnataka: KSRTC Workers Begin Fourth Round of Protests Over Wages

The protestors have gathered at Freedom Park, Bengaluru, since March 1. Their primary demand is to have their pay included within the ambit of the pay commissions.
Karnataka state transport

Representational image. | Image courtesy: Wikimedia commons

Around 200 Road Transport Workers in Karnataka have commenced their fourth round of protests in three years. They had previously gone on a hunger strike in December last year during the winter session of the Assembly in Belagavi. They say that the Transport Minister, Sriramulu, had promised to speak to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to resolve their grievances. However, their demands still need to be met.

Their primary demand is to have their pay included within the ambit of the pay commissions. The protestors have gathered at Freedom Park, Bengaluru, since March 1. The protests are led by Karnataka Rajya Raste Sarige Naukarara Koota (Karnataka State Road Transport Employees Association). The Koota claims to represent 25,000 workers out of the 1.23 lakh employees in the road transport department.

S Nagaraju, 68, is a retired KSRTC union leader. He is attending all the protests in solidarity with the workers. Speaking to Newsclick, he said, "During our first protest (in 2020), the government promised to fix our salaries on par with the sixth pay commission. But they cited the pandemic and said that it was conditional upon the government's financial position. Nothing has changed after that. We had elections for our workers' union way back in 1992. There were 10-12 registered labour organisations in the transport department. We asked for elections to one union which can represent everyone. This was held in 1992. Although these elections should be held every four years, we have not had any union elections since then. We demand that these elections be held regularly for workers' welfare."

Nagaraju says that he receives a meagre pension of Rs 1500/month.

He further alleges that while diesel is sold for a little over Rs 85/L in the open market, KSRTC purchases diesel at Rs 120/L from PSUs like the Indian Oil Corporation (IOC).

The protest is being conducted by four unions. They have come together under an umbrella organisation called Sarige Nigamagala Naukarara Samana Manskara Vedike (Forum for Like-minded Transport Corporation Employees). This was established four years ago. They claim that 60% of all road transport employees are part of it.

M Lagumaiah, 62, a retired mechanic with the KSRTC, says they want salaries akin to government employees.

Speaking to Newsclick, he said, "When we began our protest in December 2020, the government employees were paid as per the sixth pay commission. We want equal wages on par with government employees. When new pay commissions are introduced, we also want them to apply to us. Presently, we are not considered government employees. The KSRTC corporation board employs us. I have retired after 33 years of service, and my last salary was Rs 35,000/month."

Jayaram Rathod, 36, is a mechanic with North East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC). He whips out his phone and shows his payslip for February. Speaking to NewsClick, he says, "after 16 years of service, my basic pay comes to Rs 14200/month. How do I pay for my children's education and household expenses with such a small sum?"

Koota President Chandra Shekhar says, "There are 23,000 buses in the road transport department. There are no contract employees; all the workers are permanent employees. However, they are trying to introduce privatisation through the back door; for instance, the state government is replacing diesel buses with electric buses. These buses are placed entirely in the hands of a private company."

In August 2021, Tata Motors bagged an order to supply 921 electric buses to the BMTC. The company will operate and maintain the fleet for 12 years. Only the conductors will be taken from the existing pool of workers. The hiring of drivers will be outsourced. Workers say that every bus will be ultimately replaced with electric, thus ensuring the total privatisation of the road transport department.

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