School children in Karnataka might have a long holiday this week as the staff of the Karnataka government transport corporations don't plan on calling off the state-wide strike until their demands are met.
Late on the night of July 24, over 1.23 lakh employees of the Karnataka government transport corporations launched a statewide strike crippling daily life across the state.
While schools and colleges being shut down has been widely reported, many other regular bus commuters, particularly labourers in the unorganised sector have been facing great difficulties in getting to their workplaces.
Despite a total shutdown of services on the first day of the strike, government representatives have still not met the protesters for any discussions or negotiations.
"They are discussing among themselves and not calling us. This way, no negotiations can take place. The government decision to give a 10% hike in pay will not help at all," said V Manjunath, Office Secretary, KSRTC Staff and Workers' Federation.
Besides a 35% hike in wages and a 15% increase in the daily allowance, the workers are demanding better working conditions, particularly a reduction in working hours.
A source from BMTC said that to fulfill the demand of a 35% hike in wages, the government will have to set aside over Rs 4000 crores.
"With the 10% increase itself, government will have to churn out extra funds of over Rs 1000 crores which is going to be difficult. Where will the money for a 35% hike come from?" she asked.
However, the striking workers do not accept this argument. "When BMTC and KSRTC have recorded 35% profits why can't they give us a decent hike?â€ť asked Manjunath.
The reduction of working hours is also a burning question, as Manjunath explains that they do not receive overtime pay corresponding to the number of hours they put in. â€śWe want working hours to be reduced. According to Form IV, the usual working hours should be eight hours, but some drivers work for more than 12 hours and get paid for over-time of only two hours. There is also a demand to make the jobs of trainee employees permanent," said Manjunath.
While there were fears that autorickshaw drivers might overcharge customers due to the increased demand, many places in Bengaluru were dotted with policemen, carrying out checks for overcharging drivers. Shankar Kumar, an auto driver, says that the strike has been difficult on him for other reasons.
"My daughter works as a shop attendant in Forum Mall in Koramangala and my wife works as a daycare helper in HSR layout. Both of them use the bus. This morning I had to ferry my daughter and her other friends to work and then drop my wife at the daycare. I am starting my usual duty at 11.30 am. I will also have to pick my wife up and drop her home. This is going to be the drill until the transport strike is called off and I will be losing out on the peak hours," he said.
Transport officials said alternative arrangements are being made by giving temporary contract carriage to private operators during the strike. They also plan on invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the striking employees.
However, Manjunath says that nothing will deter those on strike, and all the employees are ready to go to jail if need be.
"We have been fighting for this since 2012. That year too we had a two-day protest and the government stuck to its decision of a 10% hike. But, this time it is going to be an indefinite strike," he said.