The 9-day-long BEST bus strike was called off Wednesday, bringing relief for lakhs of Mumbai commuters. The BEST buses began plying on the roads soon after the announcement of the strike being called off in the afternoon. During a hearing on a PIL on the strike at the Bombay High Court earlier in the day, the BEST Workers' Union agreed to withdraw the stir after accepting the '10-step' increment offered by the management of the Bombay Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) as an interim measure.
Union leader Shashank Rao later addressed agitating workers and their families at Wadala Depot of the BEST and announced withdrawal of the strike. "We accepted the 10-step gradation pay hike before the court and agreed to resolve remaining issues through a mediator," Rao said. Rao earlier met other senior union leaders and got their consent to call off the strike, which began on January 8. The strike, which caused inconvenience to about 25 lakh bus commuters, was the longest-ever in BEST's history.
Around 32,000 BEST workers were on strike for various demands including pay hike, revision of the pay scale of junior-level employees and merger of loss-making BEST's budget with that of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) so that the cash-rich civic body could shore up the BEST's finances. A state-appointed high-powered committee earlier this week suggested that the BEST employees' salary is hiked in 10 steps as an interim measure.
BEST Workers' Union's counsel Neeta Karnik said Wednesday that this was acceptable to the employees but they wanted an independent mediator to resolve the issues. The union and the BEST management agreed on retired high court justice F I Rebello as the mediator. A division bench of Chief Justice N H Patil and Justice N M Jamdar said in the order that the mediator will discuss demands of the employees within three months. The court also noted that "the situation should not have been brought to this extent" and the BEST and BMC "should show more consideration of the BEST workers".
"It is not easy for families to survive with low salaries," Chief Justice Patil said. As per the BMC's previous submissions, a 'one-step' increase in pay amounts to around Rs 330 per month. The state government last week invoked the Maharashtra Essential Services Maintenance Act against the employees. It had also asked them to vacate houses given by the undertaking. Union leader Rao said while addressing the workers that as per the assurance was given by the management, no penal action will be taken against those who took part in the strike.
The BEST has a fleet of over 3,200 buses which criss-cross the metropolis and also operate in the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai. It is the second-biggest mode of transport in Mumbai after local trains which ferry over 80 lakh passengers daily.
(With inputs from agencies.)