Less than a month after the merger of the Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (APSRTC) into the state government, the Employees’ Union (EU) held statewide dharnas at depots across Andhra Pradesh on Thursday and Friday. The union is protesting against the ‘unilateral’ decisions being taken by the government, adversely affecting APSRTC employees.
The merger – a long pending demand, and also a campaign promise made by Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy – came into effect on January 1. But the RTC EU is now unhappy with various measures being taken in the name of treating RTC workers on par with government employees, claiming that several benefits that they enjoyed under APSRTC are being withdrawn.
Speaking to TNM, Damodar Rao, General Secretary of the APSRTC EU said that the government had proposed the removal of several existing benefits like bus pass privileges, medical care etc. “The existing medical care scheme for APSRTC employees is better than the healthcare provided for government employees. We have provisions for lifelong medical care even after retirement in dedicated hospitals. The merger is only of the employees, for paying their salaries. The entire corporation cannot be merged so easily, as the state and central governments hold a stake in it. The APSRTC as per Road Transport Corporations Act 1950 will remain. So they cannot simply remove the present benefits, which have been gained through negotiations by the workers’ unions over decades,” Damodar Rao said.
Some of the other demands of the union include the release of pending arrears worth Rs 1,500 crore in instalments, as previously promised by the government, the pending regularisation of 150 contract staff and cancellation of orders issued to hire drivers and conductors through outsourcing. The union is also protesting the removal of the SRBS (Staff Retirement Benefit Scheme) funded through the SBT (Staff Benefit Trust).
Apart from the negotiation for various employee benefits, there is a fear of the dissolution of the various workers’ unions. “There are plans to dissolve the unions and replace them with an association for employees. But ever since the corporation was formed in 1958, whatever benefits and protection we have managed to achieve so far, has been through negotiation of the unions,” says Damodar Rao.
Employees are afraid that removing the unions will undo the years of negotiations for better working conditions. Damodar Rao gives the example of the existing payment structure for overtime. “Unions have negotiated for fair overtime pay, where, for every hour of overtime work, the pay given is twice the usual pay for an hour. Instead, they have now proposed to pay an amount of Rs 2 for every kilometre of distance covered during overtime,” he says, adding that there’s a danger of working conditions becoming worse in many other ways if the unions are removed. “They should allow us to continue to form unions under the Industrial Disputes Act,” Damodar Rao says.
While the APSRTC management declined to comment on the demands, Executive Director (Admin) Koteswara Rao said that it was too early for the employees to be protesting. “It’s only been a month since the merger, they should wait a little longer and see how things turn out,” he said.