Mumbai: After nine days of stalemate, the BEST workers’ union on Wednesday finally called off their strike. This has been the longest strike in BEST history, which was withdrawn after the workers agreed to accept the 10-step incremental increase in their salaries; it will be implemented from January 1, 2019.
This means, the salaries will increase by over Rs 3,300 per month, which union leader Shashank Rao had been demanding. More important, this has been agreed to with the High Court’s intervention. The other demands of the striking workers have been referred to a mediator appointed by the court.
But one question that remains to be answered is who will foot the bill of the incremental hike which will run into crores. With the BMC showing a marked reluctance to loosen its purse strings, will the hike be passed onto the consumers in form of hike in fares?
The division bench of Chief Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Nitin Jamdar had appointed Chief Justice (retired) Ferdino Rebello of the Allahabad High Court to mediate between the striking employees and the BEST management. The mediator – Justice Rebello — will look into the demands of the workers – as well as monitor the incremental hike in their salaries. The judge will also vet the demand of workers for merging the budget of BEST with that of BMC.
Apart from this, Justice Rebello will also vet the BEST proposal to introduce and run wet-lease and electric buses in Mumbai. A total of 3337 buses were off streets since January 8, 2019, after 98 per cent workers voted to go on strike. They did not report to work for the last nine days, even in the face of eviction notices served on their families who occupy BEST quarters.
The bench led by CJ Patil has asked the mediator to submit its report within three months. During the course of the hearing on Wednesday, Patil said, “We expect all parties to create a congenial and cordial atmosphere, so that mediation starts at the earliest and culminates as early as possible. A forum has been created with consent of the parties for raising their issues; now, we expect the parties to get the issues resolved amicably.”
“We feel it necessary to observe that the State and the BMC must gear up and should have a back-up plan to avoid inconvenience to millions of residents of the city, when disruption of the essential services take place,” CJ Patil observed. Within an hour of the hearing, the workers’ union held a meeting of striking employees at Wadala depot and formally called off the strike.