Mumbai: On the sixth day of their strike, the agitating bus drivers, who have been hired by the BEST on a wet lease arrangement, affirmed that the ongoing stir will continue until the Undertaking recruits them on a permanent basis. Addressing a presser on Monday, they said that they will not hold any negotiations with the BEST administration instead directly engage with the state government. A 20-member delegation has been already formed for the purpose, they added.
Urging Chief Minister Eknath Shinde to look into the matter, the agitators said that if it's difficult to get them on the BEST's payroll then they should be taken as contractual staff. While drawing comparisons with the salaries of BEST staffers, they raised a cry of 'samaan kaam, samaan daam' (equal pay for equal work).
“For the past six days, around 7,000-9,000 employees of all wet lease buses have been on the strike, which will continue till the demands are met,” asserted Vikas Kharmale, coordinator of a newly-formed group representing the agitators. The wet lease drivers have lived under duress for the last four years and the strike is the result of this unrest, remarked Kharmale, who is an employee of private bus operator Daga Group. When asked that the operators have begun appointing new drivers, he said in a cryptic tone, “They will be welcomed.”
"Salary inadequate for survival"
Nitin Kamble, an employee of private bus operator Mateshwari, said conductors were getting just ₹12,500 per month as salary, which was “inadequate for survival”. Daga Group employee, Paresh Temgire, said as a driver he was promised a salary of ₹22,500 per month, but he received ₹17,000 in hand. “The amount is insufficient to survive in a city like Mumbai,” he said.
As many as 796 of the more than 1,600 wet lease buses continued to remain off roads on Monday. The agitators prominent demands include salary hike and free travel on the BEST buses.