BEST threatens strike if drivers and conductors not given PPEs by Maharashtra gov’t

The BEST workers’ union has called for a ‘Stay Home’ strike for workers starting Monday

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A part of the frontline group battling the Covid-19 crisis, bus drivers in Maharashtra have been toiling day and night, ferrying essential services workers to their destinations and back home safely. However, the irony is that these drivers are themselves left out of the gamut of safety protocols with not all of them being given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect themselves from the infection.

In light of this, the BEST (Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport) Workers’ Union, the BEST Sanyukta Kamgar Kruti Samiti (BSKKS), the biggest union in the transport undertaking, has given a call to 40,000 staffers to ‘Stay Home’ from Monday if the administration does not accept its demands, which include gear like PPE kits, masks, sanitizers and gloves for drivers and conductors, proper quarantine and hospital facilities and Rs. 1 crore medical cover for employees and their families, reported The Times of India.

Workers’ union leader Shashank Rao said that the union had repeatedly been demanding protection for workers who were exposed to the virus and alleged that the administration had done nothing to address the matter. He said, “We have waited for long and now we want all workers to be safe and stay home from Monday if the management fails to give us facilities for a safe working environment.”

Hindustan Times reported that as per the ask of BSKKS, BEST administration should provide proper quarantine and hospitalization facilities with proper food, water, medicines, being arranged by the undertaking. BSKKS demands include comprehensive medical insurance of ₹1 crore for employee and their family members, mandatory health check-up of all employees and, a separate dedicated hospital for BEST staff apart from a ‘shaheed’ (martyr) status for those who die on duty.

Currently, the number of BEST employees testing positive for the crisis stands at 98. “Of this, the recovery rate is 38% and no staffer is in ICU,” said BEST chief medical officer, Dr Anil Kumar Singhal. So far, there have been six deaths in the BEST.

However, some officials complain that the move is unwarranted especially because these drivers and conductors are frontline workers. BEST General Manager Surendrakumar Bagde, said, “There are no complaints from staffers who are getting special allowance for Covid duties, proper protection and medical care,” adding that the undertaking will provide face shields to conductors.

A rival union led by Suhas Samant, which claims to have 10,000-15,000 members, said: “We will ensure every staffer is on duty on Monday and the image of the undertaking is not tarnished by such unjusitifed call for a strike…” He also added that his union has also sought from the administration protective gear for drivers and conductors.


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