Drivers and conductors of road transport corporations in Karnataka will begin a strike on wage-related issues from Wednesday, April 7. Meanwhile, the Karnataka government has warned them of strict action and ruled out any negotiations.
The government said that most of the demands by the employees have been addressed despite financial constraints due to COVID-19. The state government made it clear that their demand for implementation of the sixth pay commission report for the Road Transport Corporation workers cannot be fulfilled.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa appealed transport workers not to be adamant and attend work. He said the government has made alternate arrangements by roping in private transport operators and seeking for deployment of more trains, aimed at addressing inconvenience caused to the general public, due to the strike.
"We have fulfilled eight out of your (workers) nine demands, we have to work together for the welfare of the people. Without giving room for the government to take strict measures, drop the strike and cooperate with the administration," he told reporters in Hubballi.
Earlier in the day, the Chief Minister held a meeting with the Chief Secretary and top Transport department officials on tackling the strike.
"Transport employees have given a call to go on strike from tomorrow, the Chief Minister held a discussion in this regard, we are requesting employees not to go on strike keeping COVID situation in mind. They had nine demands, eight of them have been fulfilled and implemented," Chief Secretary P Ravi Kumar said.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, he said, their demand for implementation of the sixth pay commission report, and thereby give them the salary on par with the government employees, cannot be fulfilled.
"It cannot be given to transport employees," he said, however, the transport minister after discussion has agreed for an 8 per cent increase in salary as an interim relief, but it cannot be implemented immediately as the model code of conduct is in place and a letter has been sent to the Election Commission seeking permission.
Workers of Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC), North Western Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NWKRTC) and North Eastern Karnataka Road Transport Corporation (NEKRTC), under the banner of Karnataka State Road Transport Employees League, have given a call for strike from April 7.
The protest is against the government's "failure" to implement a salary under the 6th Pay Commission for the RTC workers.
However, the league led by farmer leader Kodihalli Chandrashekar, terming the government's conduct as dictatorial, said that they will not budge to threats and will continue with the strike.
"...People of the state are watching, our indefinite strike will continue...our protest will be non-violent, employees will not come to duty," he said, as he appealed to private transporters to join hands in the stir.
With the employees league leaders deciding to go ahead with the strike, bus services are likely to be hit across the state, including Bengaluru from April 7.
There were reports of shortage of buses since this evening itself, with many second shift employees not reporting to duty, official sources said.
Noting that so far pay revision used to take place for transport employees once in four years after discussion with them, Ravi Kumar said, for government employees pay commission implementation takes place after five or six years, some time ten years also.
Due to the COVID-19 situation, lockdown and decline in number of passengers, the transport corporations had no proper income, he said, still the state government ensured payment for staff on time, by giving Rs 2,100 crore.
Pointing out that the Transport Minister and the Chief Minister have made an appeal, as the strike will create problems for the public, the Chief Secretary said, to address the situation the transport department will take measures.
"Private buses, maxi cabs will be left free, they will be allowed to operate in assigned routes. The Transport Commissioner is working on alternate arrangements across the state," he said, but still there will be some inconvenience, also Railways have been requested for special trains to places like Kalaburagi, Belagavi, Hubballi, Mysuru among others.
The Chief Minister told us to deal with the transport strike "strictly", Kumar in response to a question said, adding the government is thinking about imposing Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA).
"There will be no more negotiations or talks...still if they go for strike, all the measures that can be taken in the framework of law will be taken. This is the strict decision taken by the CM and it will be implemented... no work no pay will anyway be there," he said.
Warning against damage to buses and public assets in the name of a strike, he said, such things will be dealt with very seriously.
Further noting that there are COVID restrictions in place and a notification has already been issued under the Disaster Management Act stating that people cannot gather in groups, Kumar said, if it is violated, action will be taken under the act, also IPC, police act among others.
Highlighting the situation faced by public transport corporations, he said, 45 lakh passengers used to commute in public transport buses in Bengaluru alone per day, it has now reduced to 20 lakh, and may further go down due to COVID.
"Public transport corporations are facing Rs 4 crore loss per day, the government is filling in for it," he said.
Making it clear that action will be taken against those involved in any kind of instigation, the Chief Secretary said, the Transport Commissioner will take steps to see to it that autos and cabs don't charge exorbitantly, taking advantage of the transport strike.
The Transport Commissioner said a notification fixing cab and bus fares has already been issued and no once can charge over it.
"If we get to know about it, strict action will be taken. (With PTI inputs)