BEST move to sack absentee workers criticised Penalise, don’t sack, say experts

Mumbai: The decision of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST) to act against its workers for abstaining from work during the Covid lockdown, has met with much criticism. The BEST has dismissed 14 workers and charge-sheeted over 2000 workers for not reporting to work during the Covid lockdown for the past three months.

About 575 BEST staffers contracted Coronavirus out of which about 435 successfully recovered, thus registering a  recovery rate of  75% as on June 24. The BEST however refused to reveal the fatality rate though workers unions’ sources have pegged it over 56.                                                                                                                                                                    

Senior BEST committee member, Sunil Ganacharya said: “It’s unfair to target the poor drivers and conductors, when there is large scale absenteeism within the BEST officialdom. If BEST is an essential service, than shouldn’t equal action be taken against all? Also, since most BEST workers are sole earning members, the apprehension of their family members to not send them to work is understandable. Does the BEST even care to admit how many employees it lost to Covid-19? Why have they stopped giving the death toll once it crossed eight  deaths?”

The BEST had also deducted salaries of over 7000 absent employees of their total 37,000 odd employees before sending them notices seeking explanation for their absence. Those who failed to respond were terminated.  

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Ganacharya felt that the BEST could have issued warnings or termed their absence as unpaid leave instead of taking the drastic step of suspending erring workers. He said that closure of the labour courts due to the lockdown has meant that the workers unions were unable to approach courts on this. 

His opinion is shared by transport activist A.V. Shenoy, founder of the Mumbai Mobility Forum (MMF). Speaking to thenews21, Shenoy stated: “This is an extraordinary health crisis and BEST should have taken a humane approach to assuage the fears of their workers rather than coerce them back to work. The fears of BEST employees and their families in these times are valid as physical distancing is a critical issue. Isn’t it right for workers to think about who will care for them in case they fall sick? Does BEST even have any medical hospital or services for their staffers like the railways?”.

Leader of the BEST Kampar Sena, Suhas Samant said: “Many workers were absent as they were stuck up at their native places and unable to travel back to Mumbai due to lockdown. Most of such people have responded and the BEST should withdraw the charge sheet. Those workers who are very much in Mumbai, have no health issues and still abstaining from work, then the BEST could act against them. However, workers shouldn’t be sacked and instead their absence be treated as unpaid leave.” 

Officially, the BEST has refused to reveal the real number of workers suspended or charge sheeted or comment on this issue, getting maximum fleet out on the streets was believed to be the key reason to crack the whip on workers. The BEST operated 2854 buses, ferried 8,26725 passengers and earned revenue of Rs 76,64958 as on June 26.

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