BEST workers on war-path again?

Union members will meet today to decide on next steps

Workers of the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) will meet on Tuesday to decide on whether to go on another agitation to press for their demands, which have remained unfulfilled since they called off their nine-day strike in January.

The strike, which was the longest in BEST’s history, ended after the High Court appointed Ferdinand Rebello, a retired chief justice, as a mediator to discuss the demands, which included the merger of the BEST budget with the BMC budget. Sources said the mediation had failed and senior union officials blamed the administration’s insistence of including the reform package laid down by the BMC in order to gain financial assistance from them.

In May, the BMC announced a ₹100 crore monthly grant to the BEST to help it meet its operational expenses but also laid out that certain aspects of the reform package such as wet leasing will have to be implemented. The unions have been opposing this as they consider it another form of privatisation and have got a stay order from the court against the same. The administration got a minor reprieve when the stay was removed for the procurement of 80 electric buses for which the BEST risked losing subsidy under the Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles (FAME) Scheme.

Sources said that negotiations between the unions and the administration to find a middle ground on the issue of wet leasing are under way. This will secure the workers’ positions while allowing the administration to go ahead with the plan.

“The unions may take the case back if the administration assures them that the current strength of the bus fleet remains unaffected. It will also need to increase the wage slab for the 13,000 workers and start dialogue for a fresh wage agreement, which has been pending for nearly a decade,” a senior union official, who did not wish to be named, said.

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