By Ila Ananya
Last year, it was reported that women in Kerala were hired as bus conductors by private buses on what was being called a state-run ‘poverty eradication’ scheme. Soon after, in January this year, out of the 90 women who were recruited, 89 of them quit their jobs. Why? There was a huge gap in what was being paid to men and women conductors — according to The Hindu, the a woman reportedly earned Rs 500 after working 12 hours a day for five months.
Anyway, now, it seems like the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) has decided that they’re slowly going to club the roles of drivers and conductors together. The Hindu reported that this means that only women who are willing to and can work as bus drivers and conductors are going to be employed, essentially cutting down on a large number of opportunities that could be available for women to work as just conductors and earn money. Reportedly, this is because the KSRTC is struggling to pay salaries and pensions, so they’re trying to bring down the staff strength.
It also seems like although the decision was taken back on 17th June, it hasn’t been publicised widely, because the KSRTC fears a backlash from trade unions and women’s groups. It’ll probably be the case once this starts being implemented in itself, but
What’s startling is that nobody seems to really care that the effect of this rule will be more on women than on men. When the women conductors had quit en mass in January, the president of the Kerala State Private Bus Operators’ Federation said the reason was not unequal pay, but the fact that the working hours were inconvenient for women, and that they had no facilities at bus stands for them. That wasn’t addressed either. Now, the public transport system seems to have taken this a step further. There’s also no sense yet of what will happen to the people who are already employed — will the women working as conductors lose their jobs because they can’t or don’t want to work as drivers as well, or will they be allowed to remain?