Hired drivers steer TSRTC buses, strike set to end soon

Sreenivas Janyala
With buses off road, autorickshaws and minivans have pitched in to take people across Hyderabad and outside. (Express)

While the protesting Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees unions on Wednesday indicated that they are ready to end the nearly six-week strike and resume duty, the Telangana government, which has called the strike “illegal”, seems to have outfoxed them, hiring drivers and conductors on contractors to run nearly 70 per cent of the buses.

The JAC is likely to call off the strike soon.

The government, which has threatened to privatise all TSRTC bus routes unless the unions called off the strike, has steadily managed to increase the number of buses operating on different routes across the state. On Wednesday, the government operated 6,199 buses out of the 9,900-strong fleet with drivers and conductors recruited on contract, and paid them a reasonably high daily wage.

On Wednesday evening, following a meeting of TSRTC Joint Action Committee (JAC), employees' leaders said since the Telangana High Court has asked the Labour Commissioner to decide whether to approach the labour court to ascertain legality of the strike, they have decided to urge the government to move the labour court.

The JAC, headed by Ashwathama Reddy, said TSRTC employees are ready to resume duty, provided the government does not cause any trouble to the employees and creates the right environment for them to rejoin work.

On Monday, a division bench of Telangana High Court headed by Chief Justice R S Chauhan had asked the Labour Commissioner to decide whether to move the labour court, and observed that the HC cannot decide if the strike is illegal but the Labour Court has the power to do so.

On the move to hire private hands to put state buses back on road, TSRTC Chief Traffic Manager Muni Shekar said the government, over the last two weeks, has hired 4,380 new drivers and as many conductors on contract.

"On Wednesday, we operated 6,199 buses. Of these, 1,819 are private buses on contract with TSRTC,” Shekhar said. “We hired drivers with experience of at least 18 months in driving heavy vehicles. The 1,819 private buses on lease with TSRTC have their own drivers and we used to provide conductors, but due to the strike we recruited new conductors also on contract.”

He said the drivers on cotract are paid Rs 1,500 per day and the conductors Rs 1,000. “In Hyderabad, drivers are paid 1,750 per day. Eighty-five per cent buses are running in the districts while in Hyderabad, we are able to run 60 per cent of the buses,'' Shekhar added.

TSRTC management officials said that by the end of this week they intend to put another 500 or so buses on road. “Many former truck drivers and travel agency bus drivers are opting to work with TSRTC due to the high daily wages we are paying,'' an official said.

Earlier in the day, before the JAC's statement, union leader Raji Reddy had said, “The government is running many buses by hiring drivers and conductors on contract. We tried to stop them but we are unable to do so. We will continue the strike until the government accepts our demands. We will see for how long the government runs buses with workers hired on contract.”

On Monday, Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao had said that he would not hold any talks with TSRTC unions even after they backed down from the demand that they be merged with the state government. Rao said he had given the protesting staff two opportunities to get back to work but they did not pay heed.

Rao, who has called the strike “illegal”, had on November 2 set a deadline of midnight November 5 for TSRTC unions to end the strike, which had begun on October 5.

The CM also said, “Despite giving them almost 60 per cent salary hike they have resorted to this senseless strike. Ignoring demands of employees of other departments we gave them hikes but they went on strike under the influence of opposition parties. We tried to reason with them, but they don't want to listen.”

Rao also held TSRTC unions and opposition parties “100 per cent responsible” for suicides and deaths of RTC employees.

The TSRTC JAC has said at least four employees have committed suicide until now, six others attempted suicide and three staffers died of heart attack.

On October 6, a day after the unions went on strike, the Chief Minister had set the first deadline to join duties by 6 pm and if they did not then the 48,000-odd employees would lose their jobs as they put people to hardships.