Lakhs of commuters were left stranded on the streets of Mumbai on Tuesday, after around 26,000 bus drivers and conductors of the public utility BEST went on an indefinite mass leave. They were protesting against a four hour increase in their workday.
The Bombay High Court however directed the BEST Employees Union to inform workers to resume work immediately. The management of BEST had moved the court pleading that the workers had held the city to ransom by going on strike without giving any notice.
"There are 50 lakh commuters, 3700 buses. Exams are going on. In such conditions, they have gone on strike," M.P.S. Rao, senior counsel who represented BEST, told the single-judge bench of Justice N.M. Jamdar.
Despite the court order, the workers had not resumed to their duties till the last reports came in.
“It was unexpected. I came to know about it after reaching the bus stop, so had to change my regular travel route,” said Swapnali Shirke, a Pharma company employee, who travels from Mulund in eastern suburb to Andheri in western suburb.
Kavita Darole, a teacher in the Mumbai Municipality said, “There were no taxis too, due to unprecedented crowd on the streets. We had to walk for 20 minutes to reach the school.” At some places, the taxi drivers charged more money from the commuters.
The BEST employees union leader Sharad Rao accepted that the commuters’ hardships, but blamed it on the BEST management for forcing the union to take an extreme step.
“The earlier shift was 8 hours. According to the new schedule, they will have to work for 12 hours. The drivers and conductors do not have homes near their workplace, which means they will be out of home for more than 14-15 hours every day,” said Mr. Rao.
As per the new computerised ‘Canadian Schedule,’ the shift will be divided into two parts of four hours each. The workers will have four hours break-time between two parts. The union leader claimed that the new schedule will put the workers under tremendous work pressure.
The BEST administration however has made it clear that the system will remain in place. “The court has asked the workers to join their duties. If they fail to do so, the BEST management can take strict action against them,” said O.P. Gupta, General Manager, BEST.