By Maya Palit
Last year, several women were hired as bus conductors for private buses through the Kudumbashree scheme in Kerala, a state-run ‘poverty eradication’ mission. But it’s been just over six months since 90 women were recruited, and according to a report in The Hindu, all but one woman quit their jobs. The reasons are cited by a woman conductor (anonymous), who explains that there was a huge wage gap in the salaries given to men and women conductors: whereas men were paid Rs 800 or Rs 900, the highest she got was Rs 500 after five months of working 12 hours a day, and was told that there would be no increase in her wages.
The Kerala State Private Bus Operators’ Federation has not acknowledged this discrimination openly to The Hindu, with its president suggesting other reasons behind the reluctance of women to continue with their job as conductors. He claimed that the inconvenient hours (very early mornings and late evenings) and the lack of adequate facilities for women at bus stands were factors that led to the exodus of women conductors.
No doubt, these may have had a role to play, as well as the predominantly male workforce in buses, but the gender wage gap has been conveniently buried in his explanation. Another project to hire women conductors in Kerala is in the works: the state-run operator Kerala Road Transport Cooperation (KRTC) is hoping to introduce buses in Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi that will carry only female passengers and conductors in an attempt to enhance women’s safety. And hopefully, the scheme will be more judicious about what it pays women conductors.