No referendum has been held in 15 years to recognise staff union to hold talks

The agitation by the nearly 1.10 lakh employees of the four government-run bus corporations in Karnataka, after a gap of nearly 15 years, is unlikely to be sorted out without the government giving due recognition to the role of the trade unions in finalising any wage revision.

The KSRTC Staff and Workers Federation, affiliated to the All India Trade Union Congress, is a recognised trade union at the KSRTC and the BMTC as made out by the Supreme Court in its judgment in February 1999, which held “this union enjoys recognition until the next referendum is held”.

With the government refraining from holding a referendum, the obvious conclusion is that the AITUC-led union enjoys recognition, although Minister for Transport R. Ashok has countered it.

There have been at least 12 wage settlements in the KSRTC between 1957 and 1995 (with the unions) and the last four wage revisions —1996, 2000, 2008 and 2012 — have been carried out unilaterally by the authorities. The genesis of the present crisis dates back to 1997 when the monolithic Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation was divided into four corporations — the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation, the North Eastern Karnataka Road Transport Corporation, the North Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation and the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. Ever since, the government has pushed the trade unions to a corner by not allowing a referendum in which the employees can elect a union of their choice.

‘Ready for talks’

Sources in the State government told The Hindu that approving the trade union elections was not a priority at the present juncture although it was willing to talk to the employees’ representatives to finalise a settlement. It should be noted that trade unions and the elections to ascertain the union which could hold discussions with the government was the inthing in the functioning of the KSRTC and the erstwhile BTS (Bangalore Transport Service) since their inception in 1963. However, this arrangement had been pushed to the backburner for nearly 15 years with the unions and the employees waiting for their turn to strike.

The last State-wide KSRTC strike was in February 1998 following an order of the High Court of Karnataka which ruled that drivers of the government buses concerned should pay for the damage in the event of a road accident and that the driver’s licence should be suspended forthwith.

It is another matter that this judgment had never been implemented.

ESMA threat

The threat held out by the State government to invoke the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) is looked at as an effort to browbeat the employees of the bus corporations and compel them to return to their duty.

This effort is expected to fall flat since such attempts in the past, (particularly in 1998) particularly in the transport sector, have only resulted in aggravating the situation.

H.V. Ananthasubba Rao, spokesperson for the Joint Committee of five Unions representing the employees of the bus corporations, told The Hindu that the 10 per cent hike in salary announced by the government last month should be considered an interim relief and fresh discussions initiated for a final settlement.

“The talk about the serious drought and the hike in diesel prices is only aimed at misleading the striking workers and the people. It is unacceptable,” he said.

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