Hours after BEST drivers and conductors went on a flash strike in Mumbai on Tuesday against the new computerised scheduling system and left thousands of commuters stranded, the Bombay high court has directed the protesters to call off the stir and report to work immediately.
Justice N M Jamdar, who was hearing an application filed by the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport, directed the transport union to ask all its members to report to work immediately and call off their strike.
BEST had approached the high court stating that despite an order from the industrial court directing for implementation of the new computerised scheduling system, the employees went on a flash strike bringing the city to a halt and affecting several commuters and students.
"You (BEST employees) submitted yourself to the procedure of the industrial court and hence have to now comply with the order passed by that court," Justice Jamdar observed.
The industrial court had earlier stayed the new duty schedule for the conductors following which BEST appealed to the high court.
On March 28, the high court cancelled the stay order and directed the industrial court to hear the matter expeditiously. On March 29, the industrial court approved the proposed duty schedule and directed for it to be brought into effect from April 1.
While the BEST employees want the earlier manual system of scheduling to continue, BEST said the new computerised scheduling system will optimise the use of workforce, ensure better frequency of buses and save Rs 32 crore for the undertaking annually.
Bus services were paralysed since early morning in the metropolis, affecting office-goers and school children appearing for examinations the most. Commuters who depend on buses were stranded and many had to opt for autorickshaws for travel to place of work.
Around 40 per cent of the staffers had accepted the new scheduling system and even filled up forms, sources said.
However, unions decided to go on flash strike as they are opposed to the 12-13-hour work schedule for 20 per cent of the staffers and want the earlier manual system of scheduling to continue.
The BEST runs a fleet of 4,200 buses and ferries 40 lakh passengers in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Mira Road daily. It has around 22,000 drivers/conductors who ply buses on more than 500 routes daily.
Meanwhile, BEST officials said the worker's union was pressurising the employees to refrain from reporting for duty unless their demand of manual scheduling of their work was met.
"BEST had initially started the use of computerised software in two bus depots and then increased its use to ten depots. Only after we were satisfied did we initiate the software's use in all depots," BEST spokesman Hanumant Gofne said, alleging that the union was misleading the employees.
The duty hours of the employees would not exceed eight hours a day, he stated.
The employees had even taken the matter to court and the new schedule came into effect after being approved by the industrial court on March 29.
Image: Stranded BEST buses seen at a bus depot in Mumbai on Tuesday
Photograph: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com