“Win striking workers’ trust”: Bus commuters’ association tells govt

City's bus users tell government to resolve issues amicably and maintain affordable transport for the poor

The Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike has appealed to the government to constitute a joint legislative committee or a tripartite  committee of workers, transport corporations and state government to look into the issues facing road transport corporations in the State.

The committee, in a press release issued Sunday, said that the government should take workers’ demands and their welfare, with a  view of strengthening RTCs, into view. It should improve the accessibility and availability of the public service  for the benefit of common people. 

The BBPV’s appeal came in the wake of the state’s road transport corporation employees — including drivers, conductors and other personnel of the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation — striking work from Friday.

Holding that transport workers are the bedrock of an important public service but have been side-lined over the past many years, the BBPV said that it is high time that the government reviews the  financial model for public transport corporations.

It should provide significant public  investment to strengthen the RTCs and enable them to provide better quality of services to  commuters and also address the welfare and demands of their employees.

Consider them govt employees

The BBPV said that the sole demand of the striking workers is that they be recognised as  government employees. Workers are angry also because of several structural issues in the RTCs, the BBPV said.  

“During the pandemic, they operated buses at great personal risk. Yet they have had to struggle  to get their salaries on time, multiple times. Workers Unions also allege that those who lost their  lives due to Covid were not even compensated,” the commuters’ association pointed out.

This situation arose because the salaries  of transport workers in Karnataka are being paid from the revenues of the transport corporations. With  low ridership during the pandemic, transport corporations are facing revenue losses and do not  have adequate resources to pay salaries, the BBPV said. 

The current economic crisis is not to blame for the non-payment of salaries, the BBPV said. In the past too, many times,  corporations have delayed salary payments, insurance  premiums and PF due to lack of funds.

Stand by workers

The Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike, an association of bus users in the city, appealed to the striking transport workers to deploy creative methods of protest to press for their demands.

In a press release issued on the third day of the strike on Sunday, the BBPV suggested that the striking employees run bus services but not charge commuters for their journeys. This would achieve the twin purpose of not inconveniencing bus users while continuing their protest.

Supporting the workers’ struggle, BBPV said: “We ask workers to explore alternative modes of protest because many of the poor and marginalised count on buses to go to work and their livelihood and other critical needs are being affected. Public transport is the only option for many of them who struggle for their daily living.”

  • Workers are the main-stay of RTCs and we stand with them
  • The government must not take coercive action against workers and must immediately take the striking workers into confidence and work with them to address their demands
  • The strike is a fallout of government inaction and a reflection of structural issues in RTCs – lack of government support for RTCs, workers’ rights not being recognised, management not recognising Workers Unions
  • If the government does not address workers’ needs, we request workers to look at alternate ways of continuing the strike without affecting commuters since the poor and marginalized rely on public transport for their basic daily needs

What’s more, workers unions and workers have always  spoken of women workers not having access to restrooms and facing sexual harassment. Workers often slept in buses overnight. Schedules were not revised for several years and drivers were reprimanded for not sticking to outdated schedules. Moreover, corporations refused to recognise trade unions or hold elections for the union, or provide for worker-friendly internal forums to address their grievances. These issues have led to the rising anger among the workers, BBPV said.  

RTCs need state support

Despite serving an important public need, these corporations receive very little public  investment from the state and central governments. They are forced to support their costs,  including staff salaries, from their revenues, the release pointed out.  

Public transport is never a profit-making enterprise the world over. Under the current institutional arrangement and revenue considerations, transport corporations are regularly constrained to disregard employee benefits and working conditions, but provide adequate  coverage and services to underserved areas. This situation undermines both staff welfare and quality of service to commuters, BBPV said.  

Don’t invoke ESMA

The strike is a result of the accumulated grievances over time, compounded by difficulties during the pandemic. The government must speak to all workers representatives and not resort to authoritarian measures such as the Essential Services Maintenance Act.

“The bus and bus commuters are central to the city. Do not neglect us. Nurture the bus service.  The workers are key stakeholders in the service and they are our allies. Please do not neglect their concerns. In the interest of commuters and a robust bus system, we request the government to reach out to the distressed workers immediately and address their concerns, BBPV said. 

[This article is based on a press release from Bengaluru Bus Prayanikara Vedike (BBPV), and has been published with edits]

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