Unfair to target families of striking BEST workers, say kin

Updated: Jan 11, 2019, 12:16 IST | Rajendra B. Aklekar

Employees on the boil after MESMA slapped on 300 staffers and 2,000 served eviction notices

Unfair to target families of striking BEST workers, say kin
Wives and families of BEST workers protest at the Wadala bus depot. Pic/Ashish Raje

Furious wives and families of BEST employees stepped out to protest at the Wadala bus depot, on Thursday, over being ordered to evict their staff quarters. The strike continued, as workers, including drivers and conductors, assembled outside bus depots, but were unwilling to sign the muster.

Till late last night, trade union leaders, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, and the Mumbai Mayor were closeted in a meeting at the latter's bungalow to resolve the stalemate. But union leader Shashank Sharad Rao said after the five-hour meeting, that the talks had failed and the strike continues. He said Thackeray simply asked officials to find a solution, but nothing came out of it.

"We came because the Mayor called us. The commissioner has refused to merge the budgets of BMC and BEST. They have not agreed to any of the demands. We want something in writing from the administration but there was no attempt at all to do so. We have also given a letter to the chief minister. This is an employees' fight for living in dignity and we will continue to fight for them."

The wife of an employee said they will fight the BEST administration tooth and nail. Pic/Ashish Raje
The wife of an employee said they will fight the BEST administration tooth and nail. Pic/Ashish Raje

Despite the BEST management warning them of stringent action and imposing MESMA (Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act) on 300 staffers, and issuing show cause notices to 2,000 employees to vacate staff quarters, workers remained firm on continuing with the protest till demands were met The BEST staff is demanding a merger of its budget with the 'A' budget of BMC. They are also seeking a resolution of the issue of employee service residences and recruitment.

'BEST admin is unfair'
"What the BEST admin is doing is unfair. BEST employees are fighting for their rights and this does not mean that they should be asked to vacate the houses. We will fight and oppose this tooth and nail," an employee's wife said. Wives of employees alleged that notices were slapped in English, a language they do not understand, and signatures of some of them, as acknowledgements for these, were taken by pressure tactics.

BEST workers and their families have also met Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray. As per BEST statistics, a total of 8 bus drivers, 5 bus conductors, 137 bus inspectors and 46 bus starters reported for duty till 6 pm on Thursday. Central and Western Railway have been running additional services during the strike. There was pressure on the Mumbai Metro too. Metro officials said footfalls at their stations continue to be higher.

'Getting rid of the BEST'
Sandhya Gokhale of the Forum Against Oppression of Women, who is also a member of the Aamchi Mumbai, Aamchi BEST, a group to revive the Undertaking, said, "The strike has been called to demand the merger of the BEST budget with the principal budget of the BMC, in addition to pressing for negotiations with the management on wages, resumption of appointments on compassionate grounds, and bonus parity with civic employees."

"The BEST Kruti Samiti, which is the umbrella body of all the BEST employees' unions spearheading the strike, has also expressed fears that the administration is bringing in privatisation through the back door, and making a vital public transport service unaffordable and unsustainable. As a women's group we are particularly alarmed at the callousness with which the BMC is dismantling the best functioning public transport system in the country," she added.

No. of BEST drivers who reported for duty

No. of BEST conductors who reported for duty

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Mumbaikars distressed with BEST worker's Union strike

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