Karnataka transport strike: Deadlock persists as government gets tough

Workers say govt is going back on its commitment to raise wages; govt says workers will have to wait till the COVID situation improves

Government transport employees are on an indefinite strike since April 7. Photo: PTI

The transport strike in Karnataka entered its eighth day on Wednesday (April 14) with the BJP-led government issuing a tough statement that it won’t accept the wage hike demand of the striking employees. The workers have repeatedly appealed to the government to discuss the situation and arrive at a conclusion.

Speaking to reporters, Revenue Minister R Ashoka said the government would not succumb to the pressure tactics of the workers and that the government would hold talks only when all workers returned to their work.

“The government borrowed money to pay the salaries of employees during the lockdown period despite the corporations making a nil profit. We will solve your problems once the COVID situation is controlled,” the minister said.

He said small farmers who transported goods in buses were severely affected by the strike. He blamed the workers for turning a profit-making unit into loss-making body.

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During an earlier strike in December last year, the government had assured the workers of a wage hike. The assurance led the workers to call off the strike. The government had also agreed to give health insurance benefits, bring a policy for inter-corporation transfers, reduce the training period from two years to one year, implement governance mechanism to avoid harassment of employees, and consider the recommendation of the 6th Pay Commission on the revision of salary depending on economic condition of the state.

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Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on Tuesday (April 13) issued a stern message to the striking employees, saying the government would withhold the salaries of those who remained absent from work. Yediyurappa said the government had already fulfilled eight of their demands. He said “adamant attitude” of the employees was causing trouble to the people of the state.

The CM’s reaction came after transport workers put up a mock demonstration where they showed themselves as beggars to highlight their plight. “The employees have to give up their obdurate stand. We will not give salaries to those who remained absent from their job. We will take more stringent action,” the CM said.

Amid pressure from the government to resume work, three workers have attempted suicide in Mandya, Hassan, and Belagavi district. One of the workers died by suicide in Transport Minister Laxman Savadi’s home district Belagavi.

Palaksha, a worker in Hassan who consumed poison and was later taken to a hospital, said the government should take care of the workers and not make false promises.

Farmer leader and KSRTC employees’ union leader Kodihalli Chandrashekar said the government had failed to honour its commitment and that the continuation of the strike depended on the decision of the government.

The transport department has about 37,000 workers and runs a fleet of 26,000 buses by four separate transport corporations — Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), North-East Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC) and North-West Road Transport Corporation (NWRTC).

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While some administrative staff have resumed work, many drivers and conductors of all the four transport corporations are on strike demanding their wages be increased as per the recommendation of the 6th Pay Commission. These workers, though treated as government employees, do not enjoy the perks on par with other government staff and their salaries depend on the revenue the corporations generate.

Meanwhile, Anjum Parvez, principal secretary of the Transport Department, has said the government may enforce the Essential Services Management Act (ESMA), which empowers the government to punish employees who refuse to serve in the essential sectors. “We have permission from the Labour Department to use ESMA. We will initiate action if there is a need,” Parvez said.

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