Bhubaneswar, Feb. 10: The four-month-old city bus service came to a halt today as drivers and conductors went on an indefinite strike demanding better service conditions. They submitted a 13-point charter of demands to the government.
Nearly 200 drivers and conductors employed by Dream Team Sahara (DTS), the service provider, stopped work early this morning demanding proper appointment letters, an eight-hour work schedule, payment as skilled workers in keeping with the government’s labour laws and clearance of overtime pay arrears.
The employees also want their salaries to be credited to their bank accounts by the first week of every month and re-absorption of all retrenched employees.
“We have been putting these demands before the management for the past one and half months but the authorities never paid any attention. Our bosses don’t even treat us well. Even sick leave is a problem as it raises the hackles of our bosses. We are told that our security deposits will be forfeited in case of absence from duty,” alleged an agitating employee.
The drivers said that during the interview they were asked strange questions such as whether they could clean the buses they were driving. “The operators think that the drivers and conductors should also work as caretakers and cleaners. Over and above that, they want us to work for more than 12 hours a day. How is that possible?” asked a driver.
Organised under the banner of JNNURM City Bus Employees Union, the strikers also said that a copy of the daily transaction reports generated through the general pocket radio service (GPRS)-enabled devices should be provided to them as sometimes money was deducted from their salaries for alleged discrepancies in accounts. They also wanted a monthly salary statement with details of the deductions made.
The employees also criticised the authorities for not putting up proper signs at the bus stops, thus causing inconvenience to commuters. Some of them said that though the service appeared to be doing good business, the management kept saying that it was incurring losses.
Denying the allegations, DTS chairman Nishikanta Mishra said that at no point of time had the officials of DTS behaved badly with the employees. He, however, admitted that security deposit from the conductors had been taken as each of them was carrying a ticketing machine to work.
However, he said that since the company was investing on their training for time to time, the employees had been informed that in case of quitting the organisation within a week of joining, Rs 2,000 would be deducted from their security deposit. “The rest of the amount is refundable. At present, we have 60 buses on six routes with 94 drivers and 104 conductors,” he added.
“Breakeven on four of the routes is yet to be achieved. On busy routes like Airport to Nandankanan the period between 7pm and 10pm is a period of loss. So we are not doing as well as expected. On some routes, certain drivers and conductors stop the buses without cause and while away their time gossiping and sipping tea,” said Mishra.
But DTS drivers and conductors said that while a small bus on the VSS Nagar-Damana route had the potential to generate Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000 through ticket sales in a day, a big bus on Airport-Nandankanan route could manage Rs 7,000 after deducting the running costs.
The DTS CEO said strike without prior notice to the management was not acceptable. “We have many disciplined workers who are being instigated by outsiders and retrenched employees. We are depositing salaries regularly in the accounts of the respective employees by the 10th or 12th of every month,” he said.