For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Manjula has served bus travellers in Telangana, standing on her feet for at least 10 hours a day issuing tickets and ushering passengers in and out. She isn't able to spend enough time with her two children - a one and half year old and a six month old infant. "We get a 6-month maternity leave, but after that we don't even get a single sick leave," she laments, and asks, "Won't new born mothers have health problems if they had cesarean surgery? They refuse our sick leave applications saying you just came back from long leave!"
Manjula gets paid Rs 28,000 a month on paper, of which she can only take Rs 20,000 home. Holding up her pay slip as proof, she says, "The salaries we get paid are not enough at all, and disproportionate to our work load."
"Are we committing a crime?" asks an angry Arunamma P, amidst the ongoing protest of Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC) employees at Press Club in Hyderabad. "Wasn't it you who led our RTC strike as part of the Telangana movement," the bus conductor asks, pointing fingers at Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. With every word she speaks, her anger becomes more palpable, the tension in her voice rising. "KCR assured us job security when we were agitating for separate statehood together, but now he has gone back on his promise," she booms.
Having spent 19 years with the transport corporation, she is among the thousands of employees who are striking demanding the TSRTC's merger with the state government, along with 25 other demands.
Meanwhile state government for its part, has been depending on private vehicles and temporary staff to meet the gap due to the strike, and has clamped down on the protestors, claiming that they would sack all 48,000 employees who did not report to work. According to some estimates, the hard stand of the government is expected to affect as many as 8000 women staff who work as conductors.
Thirty-six-year-old Tejavathi, a conductor from Ranigunj depot in Hyderabad, with 10 years of experience, says that women employees suffer much more than their male counterparts. While all of them struggle without getting salaries on time, the lack of lavatories and washrooms in terminals makes things exponentially worse for women, even resulting in medical complications.
"There are no washrooms and restrooms in many terminals. Most trips don't end in less than 3 hours. Many women conductors are going through serious health issues, which are even life threatening. These health issue have cropped up as they don't provide us with facilities and do not give sick leaves," Tejavathi says.
G Mamata, another employee, issued a rebuttal to a recent claim by KCR, where he stated that the 'average' salary of RTC employees was Rs 50,000 per month. "That is 100% wrong. I get a meagre Rs 20,000 despite having 9 years of experience. We wonder if this is an adequate amount of salary to people who work for at least five hours more than the actual 8 hours of duty."
Several also complained about unusual duty hours and lack of transport facility before and after work.
"The government is blaming us for the so-called losses. When the government can give subsidies to big corporates, why can't it do the same to the corporation, which is helping the state. We urge them to get rid off unnecessary concessions," says Radhika, an employee.
She added, "Privatisation won't affect just us, but also the people of the state. The newcomers whom the government wants to recruit, will be expected to work like slaves without asking for basic rights."
Usha Kiran, State General Secretary of Telangana Mazdoor Union said, "Ours are genuine and rightful demands. Government should merge the RTC with it and start a dialogue process with unions," she said.
She added, "In the form of taxes, the government added burden on RTC despite knowing it's running on losses while giving special promotions and tax exemptions to corporates and claiming development. When they can do that much to the private companies why not for RTC?' she asked.
RTC started employing women staff in Andhra Pradesh in the year 1996.
Meanwhile, few buses were seen plying on the roads in Hyderabad, as daily commuters continued to face a tough time in reaching their destinations. Mahatma Gandhi Bus Station (MGBS) and Jubliee Bus Station (JBS), two biggest bus stations in Hyderabad wore a near deserted-look.
Opposition parties too have come out in support of RTC staff terming KCR's actions as undemocratic and draconian.
Ruling out any talks with the unions, KCR has asked officials to recruit new employees. He has even decided for trifurcation of TSRTC. While 50 percent of the bus fleet will be owned and managed by TSRTC, another 30 percent will be hired buses and 20 percent private buses.