(Photo by Bhushan Koyande)
(Photo by Bhushan Koyande)

Mumbai: The BEST workers’ union on Wednesday agreed to withdraw its ongoing strike after accepting the ’10-step’ pay hike to be granted to them by way of an interim measure by the civic transport undertaking’s management. The Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) workers, its management and other parties concerned will now go for mediation to resolve their dispute.

Around 32,000 BEST workers have been on strike since January 8 over their various demands, including pay hike, revision of pay scale of junior level employees and merger of BEST’s budget with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).

A state appointed high-powered committee had earlier this week suggested that the BEST employees’ salary be hiked in 10 steps as an interim measure. The BEST workers’ union’s counsel Neeta Karnik Wednesday said this was agreeable to employees but they want an independent mediator to resolve the issues.

“We cannot sit with BEST. We want an independent mediator who has knowledge of labour laws…we want a retired high court judge to be appointed as mediator,” Karnik said. A division bench of Chief Justice N H Patil and Justice N M Jamdar agreed to this and directed the parties to suggest names.

“The mediator shall within a period of three months discuss demands put forth by the employees, like 20-step pay hike, merger of BEST and BMC budgets, and so on,” the court said in its order. The BEST union and its management agreed to have retired high court justice F I Rebello as the mediator.

After the court dictated its order, Karnik made a statement before the bench that the strike will be called off by Wednesday afternoon. The court noted that the first step was to ensure the strike was called-off. “The strike should not have happened at all. The situation should not have been brought to this extent. The BEST and BMC should show more consideration towards the BEST workers. It is not easy for families to survive with low salaries,” Chief Justice Patil said.

To the workers, he said, “No employee will ever say he or she is satisfied with their job and salary. But we are all part of a system that needs to continue functioning.” The court was hearing a petition filed last week by advocate Datta Mane, seeking that the strike be declared illegal and called-off.

BEST’s counsel M P Rao told the bench that the management was ready to implement the “10-step increment” for its employees with effect from January this year. The increase, however, will be implemented subject to the fact that the strike is called off, Rao told the bench. As per the BEST workers’ union and BMC’s previous submissions in court, a ‘one-step’ increase in pay for BEST workers amounts to around Rs 330 per month.

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