BEST bus strike: Achhe din for BEST employees, at last?

Mumbai: The striking employees of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) had cause for cheer when the secretary of the BEST Workers’ Union, Shashank Rao, visited the Wadala employees’ staff quarters on Wednesday afternoon with happy tidings – he announced that their nine-day long strike was being called off. Needless to say, at least 35 lakh BEST commuters too heaved a sigh of relief. “Lalpari punha rastyavar (the red fairy is back on the roads),” exclaimed a happy passenger at 4 pm, when the first bus left the Wadala depot.

The Free Press Journal spoke to the employees and their families on what they had endured in the past nine days. Said Datta Shinde, a conductor, “The junior pay grade which was Rs 5,430, will be increased to Rs 7,930 with retrospective effect, from January 1, 2019. The BEST budget will hopefully get merged with the BMC budget. We are sorry for the inconvenience to Mumbaikars but we were left with no other option than to strike.”

“We were hopeful we would get a decision in our favour. Our demands are getting fulfilled, some with immediate effect and some within the next three months, according to the high court. We are sorry for the trouble suffered by Mumbaikars. During the strike, many people provide us with food and water while we were camped outside the bus depot,” said JK Inamdar, a driver.

According to Murad Sayyad, BEST driver from Kurla bus depot, “During the strike we kept vigil day and night, outside our designated depots, to ensure that no vehicle was taken out of the depot. We braved the cold and mosquitoes but were firm in our resolve. It seems our determination paid off and today, all our demands were accepted.”

What kept the strikers going was also the unconditional support from their families. “We were scared by the strike decision. Every single day of the nine-day-long stir, my husband went to keep vigil outside the depot and when he returned I would see mosquito bites on him and it was agonising. But there is good news now and we are happy”, said Sneha Nandkumar Shaire, wife of a BEST driver.

“We have been facing financial problems for the past few years, since there was no salary hike or bonus to tide us through. Recently, a bonus was announced but was not given. Forget bonus, sometimes salaries too were not paid on time. At times, only half the salary was disbursed. It was difficult to run the household with meagre funds, but now it seems everything will be fine again,” said Snehal Suresh Parab.

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