Bharat bandh: Transport workers join trade union strike demanding minimum wage; schools shut in Karnataka; protests in Bengal, Odisha, Assam

  • Several transport workers, demanding social security and a monthly salary of Rs 24,000, will take part in a two-day nationwide strike from Tuesday

  • The strike is expected to affect commuters in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata

  • In Bengaluru, state transport buses are likely to stay off the roads on Tuesday and Wednesday

  • Services of state transport buses were also hit as bus companies saw a shortage of staff, according to reports

  • The transport workers who planned to join the protests include employees of Bengaluru's BMTC, Karnataka's KSRTC, and Mumbai’s BEST buses

Scores of transport workers, demanding social security and a monthly salary of Rs 24,000, are observing a two-day nationwide strike starting from Tuesday. West Bengal, Assam, Odisha, Karnataka and Kerala are likely to be the worst-affected states. Protesters carrying banners and raising slogans marched on the streets of Kolkata in Bengal; Hubli in Karnataka; Ganjam in Odisha and other cities in Kerala and Assam.

On Tuesday morning, protesters blocked trains at major stations in Assam, Kerala and West Bengal. Protesters blocked roads in Bhubaneshwar, Odisha's capital city, ANI reported. Services of state transport buses were also hit as bus companies saw a shortage of staff, according to reports. The report also said that "special services" to Pamba, for the devotees to the Sabarimala temple are operational.

The transport workers who planned to join the protests include employees of Bengaluru’s Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) and Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), and Mumbai’s BEST buses.

The strike, called for by several central trade unions, is to protest against the government's alleged anti-worker policies and unilateral labour reforms. Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary of AITUC, on Monday said that sectors like telecom, health, education, coal, steel, electricity, banking, insurance, transport, among others are likely to support the strike.

Livemint reported that transport unions like the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), Chalak Shakti Union, Rajdhani Parivahan Panchayat and Auto Taxi Union, Delhi, also joined the initiative.

"The workers are not covered by any labour law and do not have any social security. In such a situation, the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill if passed by the Rajya Sabha will add fuel to fire and ruin the industry,” the All India Co-ordination Committee of Road Transport Workers’ Organisation said in a statement on Monday, according to the report.

In Bengaluru, state transport buses are likely to stay off the roads on Tuesday and Wednesday even though the KSRTC officials have not extended support to the bandh, according to reports. In fact, Karnataka government has issued a warning for all schools of Karnataka to be shut in view of the bandh.

According to PTI, the metro service in Bengaluru, as also autos and taxis, are likely to function as usual. Reportedly, whether taxi service providers like Ola and Uber will join the strike is unclear.

In Mumbai, at least 29,000 employees of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) service will also go on an indefinite strike. Due to the strike, around 25 lakh passengers who travel by 3,000 BEST buses that ply on streets of Mumbai city and the metropolitan region every day will be inconvenienced. Various unions of BEST workers are demanding a renewal of their salary agreements that got expired in 2016, rise in gratuity and bonus amounts.

They are also seeking immediate resolution of housing issues and merger of various undertakings of BEST — the civic transport and electricity provider public body based in Mumbai. The unions also demanded that BEST and Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) budgets be merged.

Transport workers' demands

The demands of the transport workers include welfare for drivers — minimum wages and social security for unorganised road transport workers, and lower fuel prices.

The Hindu Businessline quoted AIMTC as saying that "high fuel prices, the yearly increase in third-party insurance premium" and even GST and demonetisation have affected the transport sector to a large extent.

“The transport sector is in a bad situation. Taxi drivers and cab operators are not covered under any labour law and do not have any social security cover. The Motor Vehicle Amendment Bill, pending in the Rajya Sabha, will help only big firms,” said R Lakshmaiah, Deputy General Secretary, All India Road Transport Workers Federation (AIRTWF), according to the report.

After agriculture, road transport is the largest employment-generating sector in India. The nationwide strike has been called for by at least 10 central trade unions, with 20 crore workers expected to join. "This is the largest number of workers from formal and informal sectors joining the strike against anti-people and anti-worker policies of the BJP-led central government," Kaur said.

"We will go on protest march from Mandi House to Parliament in New Delhi on Wednesday. Similar protests would be done across the country," she said. Kaur said the CTUs are also opposed to unilateral labour reforms.

"We have given suggestions on labour codes. But during discussion, trade unions' demands were rejected. We went on strike on 2 September, 2016. We also did 3-day 'Mahapadav' (agitation) from 9 to 11 November in 2017. But the government did not come for dialogue rather went ahead with unilateral labour reforms," she said.

The 10 CTUs going on strike include INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, TUCC, SEWA, AICCTU, LPF and UTUC.

"The government has failed to create jobs and grossly ignored unions' 12-point charter of demands. The Group of Ministers headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on labour issues has not called unions for any discussion since September 2, 2015 strike. This has left us with no other option but to go on strike," Kaur said.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jan 08, 2019 09:50:15 IST



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