Maharashtra mulls action against striking MSRTC workers under Essential Services Act

After several attempts to resolve the strike by Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) workers which nearly brought public transport to a standstill in the state for over a month, the state government is now considering taking action against workers on strike under the Maharashtra Essential Services Continuation Act (MESMA).

MESMA authorizes the police to arrest or detain workers in essential sectors without a warrant if their strike affects public services. Such offenses do not give rise to bail. Under the law, the government can prohibit a strike or compel staff to report to work in the public interest. If these essential service workers continue their strike, they can be arrested and imprisoned for a year or fined 2,000 rupees.

The Minister said: “Going forward, in the interest of the general public, the state government will not look back if it has to impose tough laws like MESMA against strikers. After discussion with the Chief Minister and the Deputy Chief Minister, further measures will be decided.

As questions are raised over whether the workers fall within the scope of the strict law, which is primarily aimed at healthcare workers, the company and Transport Minister Anil Parab have claimed that the MSRTC falls under the MESMA. as it is the main provider of transportation services in inland parts of the state.

The workers, however, see the move as another pressure tactic by the government to force the strikers back to work and as an attempt to break the united efforts of the workers, even as the government has suspended or dismissed several staff or sent them to court remarks.

On Friday, the MSRTC suspended more than 192 staff and terminated the services of 61, bringing the total number of workers suspended so far to 9,384 and those laid off to 1,980. It only managed to operate 1,382 bus services across the state that day, despite a fleet of approximately 16,000 buses.

The workers have been on strike since October 27 to demand that the state government take over MSRTC and hope to enjoy the benefits of being government employees. Almost all 250 bus depots across the state have been closed since Nov. 9.

The minister further claimed that due to the “illegal” strike, the company suffered a loss of Rs 450 crore and it was increasing day by day. “It is a financial loss that will never be reimbursed in the future. The state has already clarified its position regarding the merger of the company with the state government and the recommendations of the high-level committee appointed by the High Court to consider the applications will be accepted by the state government,” he said, adding that the government will take strict action against those who prevent workers from returning to their jobs.

Of the MSRTC’s 92,266 employees, 18,828 reported for work on Friday, a number that is more or less the same despite the Minister’s announcement of an increase of up to 41% in basic employee salaries to to end the strike.

Michelle J. Kelley