TSRTC vs KCR: Unions decry state’s unfulfilled promises

Hyderabad: Protesting against the Telangana government’s decision to form welfare commissions and eliminate trade unions, the members of the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees union organized a hunger strike at Indira Park on Saturday. More than a year has passed since the employees called off their historic 52-day strike, but the state government is yet to fulfill their demands as promised, they said.

When the TSRTC employees Joint Action Committee decided to call off the strike in November 2019, the state government postponed the trade union elections which were due in 2018, and then unilaterally decided to organize welfare committees by setting aside the unions.

Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) addressed the gathering at Indira Park alleging that the chief minister had no right to establish welfare committees when the trade unions organized by a constitutional provision are in place.

In a letter to chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao on behalf of the AITUC, she alleged that the government is violating the Trade Union Act and Code of Discipline being followed by TSRTC which requires it to conduct elections every two years. She demanded that the elections must be conducted and the status quo must be maintained in representing grievances of the working class by the unions to the management.

TSRTC Employees Union President T. Narasimhan demanded that all the issues being faced by the employees must be addressed immediately. He also added that the pay scale revision due since 2017 must be implemented and that the circular related to the job security must be approved immediately.

Revision of the pay scale happens every 4 years but as the 2017 revision is yet to be implemented, employees are expressing concerns over the 2021 revision. Guaranteed job security for drivers and conductors was one of the major demands agreed upon when the strike was called off in 2019 but is yet to be implemented.

K. Raji Reddy, General Secretary of the TSRTC Employees Union told Siasat.com that something of this sort had never happened before the bifurcation of the state when they were a part of APSRTC.

He also said that pay revision has already been implemented by the current state of Andhra Pradesh and that their employees are being paid significantly higher. He added that the TSRTC employees must be treated and paid like any other government employees.

Several other promises made by the chief minister at Pragathi Bhavan on December 1, 2019, are yet to be fulfilled. Employees who retired in 2018 have not received their settlements.

Although one of the demands of extension of retirement age to 60 has been implemented, employees allege that this is being used to further delay the settlement payments. With no salary or pension to their rescue, retired employees are facing severe issues, especially due to the ongoing pandemic.

The employees union demanded that Rs. 850 Crore must be released to clear outstanding CPF dues, along with the funds to clear Employee Provident Fund (EPF) dues.

Demands are in place to clear the arrears of ‘Sakala Janula Samme’ (People’s strike for separate state) to employees who retired between 2011 and 2016. Bonds related to the arrears of the 2013 pay revision have not been released yet. DA arrears of January-July 2019 and January-July 2020 are still pending.

While the employees are struggling to get their issues addressed, the officials of TSRTC are urging them to generate more revenue and have suggested a hike in fares in a review submitted to the state government.

The corporation incurred losses due to various reasons but has taken further hit due to the pandemic. However, it has been showing exceptional growth in the past few days by generating close to Rs. 9.5 Crore every day as the occupancy went up to 58 per cent.

Way before the review meeting, however, the government had assured that it would bear the expenses of the corporation. Employees are vehemently opposing the current proposal of hiking the fares. They feel that since people have already suffered enough during the pandemic, hiking the bus fares would push them to opt for other modes of transportation and decrease the occupancy.

The government is citing high fuel prices as one of the reasons for fare hikes but the matter of fact is that TSRTC already has some of the highest fares in the country compared to other Road Transport Corporations. Additionally, the corporation has bagged a national award for improving its fuel performance between 2019 and 2020, ranking second in the country.

Employees union suggests that the government should consider decreasing VAT on diesel in order to help the corporation. They also suggested a cutback on the number of officials by implementing a three-tier system instead of the five-tier system in place.

TSRTC Staff and Workers Federation (SWF) said that the chief minister had promised to allocate Rs. 1000 crore in the budget of 2019-2020 to the corporation but has failed to even allocate the reimbursement money. They demanded the government to grant 1 per cent of the state budget to the corporation.

As the employee and workers unions are determined to strongly oppose the state government’s decision to curb the unions, it would be interesting to see how the government responds to their current demands and suggestions.