Mumbai: Wet lease drivers’ strike leaves BEST high and dry

For the first time since BEST buses operated by private contractors on wet-lease began operations, its drivers went on strike on April 2. But the BEST Undertaking could do very little as they claimed that the matter was between the drivers and wet lease operator.

On Friday morning at around 11am or so, nearly 100-150 drivers got together in protest at Mumbai Central bus depot against the contractor appointed by the BEST. There are around 50-60 buses on wet lease that operate from here by these drivers on shifts.

According to sources the primary issue as claimed by the drivers is that they are being underpaid and overworked. When compared to the handful of bus drivers working for BEST who are doing side-duties like manning bus stops, parking buses at depots and bus stations, other administrative jobs etc. The unions claim that out of 12,000 total bus drivers with BEST, at least 2,000 of them are doing other duties.

On Friday when the strike took place the BEST were rendered helpless as the drivers stated that they are hired by the contractor. "We were told that we shall be paid Rs 22,000 as monthly salaries. However, we barely get Rs 14,000 each month," said a bus driver on condition of anonymity.

The other issue is about the work hours which they claim is more than 8 hours as they have to complete the desired run of 160-180 kms per day on which they earn Rs 56-65 per km depending on whether it's AC or non-AC bus. These drivers claimed that they aren't paid overtime as well.

BEST union leader Shashank Sharad Rao said that the drivers don't get mandatory week offs and salaries get deducted. "We are also demanding that these drivers should be considered as front-line workers and provided with necessary safety umbrella as provided to others," said Rao. The strike finally ended at 4pm or so and until then the BEST had to make arrangements from their fleet. The BEST officials said that as it was a public holiday, there weren't many repercussions though necessary action as per contract will be initiated against the contractor. At present the BEST has 1200 odd wet lease buses and 3700 plus in their own fleet.

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