HYDERABAD: After a 55-day-long strike and 29 deaths, the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (RTC) workers were allowed by Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) to join duties on Friday. However, none of their demands were met. There is no assurance on their salaries and wages for September, leave alone clarity on their absence on the strike period.

Moreover, Chief Minister KCR has directed the management of RTC to increase the bus fares by 20 paise per km so that the debt laden corporation can make up for the losses incurred during the strike period. The hike will come into force from 2 December. The RTC is expected to net an additional Rs 750 crore per annum through this fare hike.

This strike by around 49,000 employees of the state-run corporation since 5 October has drawn attention of the entire nation, including the Central government which has a stake of 31% in the Telangana RTC. The High Court which heard a batch of public interest litigation petitions till last week threw up its hands, saying that the matter related to domain of a labour court.

The two-month long strike was marred by untimely death of as many as 29 RTC employees, most of them drivers and conductors in the last two months. More than half of them had committed suicide, unable to bear the refusal of the government to respond to their strike and lack of salaries, while others succumbed to heart attacks and other ailments. Currently, there is another petition in the High Court on these deaths.

The state government has dodged the issue for a week even after the striking employees had decided to call off their stir and expressed readiness to join duties. The joint action committee (JAC) RTC trade unions had decided to call off the strike, after the High Court referred the issues to a labour court, under the control of the labour department of the state government on 20 November.

However, the government has not only responded to the offer of JAC to resume duties, but also issued a statement saying that the workers won’t be allowed to enter bus depots or report to duties as the issue was still pending in a labor court which was given a fortnight time, 2 December, to settle the matter by the High Court.

Since 24 November, the RTC depots across the state witnessed scenes of employees pleading with the managers to allow them to resume duties and police arresting them and sending them back by force. On Thursday, the JAC leaders had decided to go to Delhi and bring the issue to the notice of the Central government at a time when the Parliament is in session.

The Centre has a role to play in the issue as it held a stake in the corporation. Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari has already expressed his unhappiness over the prolonged strike of RTC employees in Telangana and hoped that the TRS government would solve it at the earliest. Governor Tamilisai, too, sent her reports to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs on the labour unrest in RTC.

However, KCR who chaired a Cabinet meeting on Thursday evening announced later to a media conference that the workers would be allowed to join duties from Friday and declared a one-time grant of Rs 100 crore to tide over the financial crisis in RTC. Currently, RTC showed only Rs 13 crore in its kitty, meaning that it has gone bankrupt even to pay the salaries of employees.

The monthly salary bill of RTC is around Rs 240 crore and the corporation is still to pay September salaries to the staff. The High Court has heard a petition on payment of September salaries and directed the management to pay the same by October second week, but the management threw up its hands, saying that it has no money to pay up.

KCR, who announced a Rs 100 crore grant on Thursday, indirectly signaled that the RTC management should raise the salaries amount through other sources–bank loans–as it has been given permission to increase bus fares. He, however, did not clarify whether the employees would be paid for the strike period or whether the last 55 days would be treated a special leave or total absent from duties.

What hit the JAC leadership most was the CM’s blunt statement that he would not recognise the trade unions in the RTC and that employees should avoid being dictated by the union leaders. KCR blamed the JAC leadership for the death of 29 RTC workers and said that he would try to provide employment to kin of the deceased.

The CM has also said that he would invite representatives of RTC workers, without the union leaders to his residence sometime next week and explain them the steps he intends to take to revive the loss-making corporation. “I know how to turn it around and I don’t need the interference from any trade unions in this,” KCR said.

The JAC leaders are in such a helpless condition that they readily agreed to keep away from RTC affairs for some time. “We have no problems in resigning from our posts. We welcome the CM allowing our employees joining duties,” RTC JAC convener Ashwathama Reddy said. He said that the JCA had heaved a sigh of relief as the strike ended finally.

 

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