Hyderabad: In a complete U-turn on the Telangana State Road Transport Corporation (TSRTC), Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao on Sunday not only showered sops on the employees, who were on strike for nearly two months, but also assured them that not a single private bus will be allowed on TSRTC routes.
Three days after over 48,000 employees resumed their duties after 56-day-long strike, the Chief Minister assured them full job security saying not a single employee will be sacked. During an interaction with selected employees here, Rao announced that salaries for September will be paid on Monday while salaries for the strike period will also be paid subsequently.
It was a complete U-turn as only last month the Chief Minister had declared that over 48,000 employees dismissed themselves by going on illegal strike and not resuming duties before the expiry of the deadline set by the government.
Fear of losing jobs drove at least five employees to commit suicide during the strike while some others died of cardiac arrest with union leaders linking this to depression caused by the government's threats and non-payment of salaries.
Going a step forward, the Chief Minister announced that the retirement age of the employees would be increased from 58 to 60 years. He also promised to absorb the contract workers into the Corporation.
Five employees from each of the 97 RTC depots spread across the state attended the interaction held at Pragati Bhavan, the official residence of the Chief Minister. KCR, as Rao is popularly known, also hosted lunch for the invitees and enquired about their problems.
The interaction was seen by many as an attempt to isolate the leaders of employees' unions as KCR had blamed them for misleading the employees and pushing them in a state of uncertainty and the state-owned organization further deep into losses.
About 50,000 employees had gone on strike on October 5 to press for 26 demands, the chief being TSRTC's merger with the government. Terming the strike illegal, KCR not only rejected the demands but also refused to hold talks with them. About 1,500 employees had returned to duty on his appeal.
The government adopted a tough stand, drawing criticism from the entire opposition, which backed the strike and series of protest programmes undertaken by the striking employees including state-wide shutdown.
Unfazed by the protests, KCR had even announced privatisation of 5,100 RTC routes. The government had received a shot in the arm with the Telangana High Court upholding the decision of the state cabinet to give permits to private operators on half of the RTC routes.
The government's position was further bolstered by the High Court's direction to the Labour Commissioner to take a decision on the legality of the strike. He was authorised to decide on whether to approach the Labour Court or not.
The Joint Action Committee (JAC), spearheading the strike, tried to outsmart the government by calling off the strike on November 25 but the TSRTC refused to take them back on duties, citing the proceedings before the Labour Commissioner. The employees, who tried to rejoin the duties the next day, were turned back and even arrested.
It was finally on November 28 that KCR decided to take back the employees. He also announced hike in bus fares to mobilise an additional income of Rs 750 crore annually to partially wipe out the losses.
At Sunday's meeting, KCR announced that the government will allocate Rs 1,000 crore every year for the TSRTC from the next budget.
He also shared his vision of TSRTC, saying he wish to see the transport utility turning profitable as early as possible.
He also announced that in case of employees who died during the strike period, one job will be given to member of their family within eight days. The government will also pay Rs 2 lakh each as an ex-gratia.