On May 29, 2022, Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC) organised a public meeting in support of the struggle of the station masters of the Indian Railways (IR). The Federations of workers of the Railways, and a large number of category-wise associations of railway workers were invited to participate in the meeting. Com. Mathew, General Secretary of the KEC welcomed everyone present and requested Com. Ashok Kumar, Joint Secretary, KEC, to conduct the proceedings.
Apart from the leaders of the All India Station Masters Association (AISMA), the meeting was addressed by the leaders of All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Guards Council (AIGC), All India Train Controllers Association (AITCA), All India Railway Track Maintainers Union (AIRTU), All India Pointsmen Association (AIPMA), Indian Railway Ticket Checking Staff Organization (IRTCSO), Indian Railway Loco Runningmen’s Organisation (IRLRO), Lok Raj Sangathan and Purogami Mahila Sangathan.
The majority of Station Masters are organised under the banner of the All India Station Masters Association (AISMA). AISMA has been fighting for the solution of their long-standing demands (see box) pertaining to their service conditions. The station masters had written to the authorities, submitted memoranda, held dharnas in various places, worked with black badges, lit up candles when on night shifts. They have carried on their agitation all the while ensuring that the rail services were not affected. However, the authorities were blind and deaf and lifted not a finger to address their grievances. In these conditions, AISMA served a notice for a one day strike on May 31, 2022. It had taken care to warn the passengers accordingly so as to cause them the least possible inconvenience.
Com. Dharamveer Singh Arora (Zonal President, Central Railway, AISMA) thanked all associations and federations for supporting the station masters’ call for strike and KEC for organising the meeting. Fearing that the station masters would implement their strike call, the railway management agreed to have negotiations with AISMA on the demands. One round of consultation was held on 23 May, and the next round was slated for 30 May. Taking account of these developments, AISMA decided to defer the strike of 31 May.
Com. Arora stressed that the struggle of station masters is a struggle of all categories as all railway employees are facing problems. The station masters decided to take up the issue of vacancies because this issue affects all employees. Although unemployment is rising, no steps are being taken to fill up vacancies. There are almost 20% vacancies in station master posts; asmounting to nearly 6800 posts.
As a result, the workload on Station Masters has greatly increased. It is resulting in increasing stress, lack of rest, no leaves, 12-hour shifts, and rising frustration. It is affecting their personal and family life. Not content with increasing the workload, the Railway Board stopped night duty allowance (NDA) for employees having basic pay above Rs. 43,600. The Railway Board even tried to recover the allowance given from 2017 onwards. Because of the workers’ protests, this recovery was stopped. Stopping the NDA has affected all railway employees. NDA was paid to railway employees as per the award of the 1969 tribunal. The benefit of NDA should be given to all employees, but when the Railway Board is asked about this issue, they say that the matter has gone to the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT), Ministry of Finance, Department of Expenditures, etc.
Although station masters are entitled to Modified Assured Career Progression (MACP) Scheme of 4200 pay grade from 01.01.2016, MACP has been granted only from 16.02.2018 without any satisfactory explanation.
Station masters are also demanding safety and stress allowance. They run trains on 160%–170% extra capacity. In the Bombay division, there are six lines now instead of four. These lines are running 1400 trains instead of 1000. In the light of this increasing workload, the station masters are demanding safety and stress allowance.
Com. Mathew (General Secretary, KEC) in his address stressed that the demands of the station masters reflect those of all railway workers. The issue of vacancies is important in the entire public and government sector as well. 3.3 lakh vacant posts in the railways have not been filled for years. Irrespective of the party or coalition in power, the government has no intention to fill vacant posts. A large number of vacancies lead to deterioration of services, which in turn gives the government a chance to malign public sector workers and push for privatisation. This strategy has been implemented not only in India but around the world. The fight of station masters is a fight of all workers and people of the country.
KEC has worked for many years to unite railway workers and for the unity of the entire working class, he said.
The leaders of the various categories all congratulated AISMA, pledged their support and thanked KEC as well for its untiring work.
Com. K C James of AILRSA explained the consequences of 25%–30% vacancies in every category, including amongst loco running staff and station masters. At many stations, only two station masters are posted instead of four. There is a ceiling for NDA (night duty allowance) for all central government employees. However, the 1969 tribunal awarded NDA without ceiling to railway employees. Now, the railway administration has taken the decision to implement a ceiling limit by violating earlier rules. He pointed out that in the railways, the workload is higher in the night that in the day, because more trains run at night.
Shri Chandan Chaturvedi (Secretary General, AITCA) said that the vacancies among train controllers are so high that the administration has no way of filling it. Station masters and guards are being made to do the work of controllers. Thus, there is vacancy in every category. The administration creates a Vacancy Bank and then surrenders the vacant posts. Recently, 91,000 posts were surrendered. Moreover, 50% non-safety posts were identified for surrendering.
Shri Chaturvedi suggested that a joint committee of category associations should be formed on a common agenda and that all categories of the IR should prepare a common agenda such that no demands are against any category.
Shri Kanta Raju (General Secretary, AIRTU), despite being hospitalised, joined the meeting and informed that AIRTU members of various divisions have written letters in solidarity withthe strike of station masters. He appreciated that all category-wise associations are providing support to station masters and requested support for track maintainers. Track maintainers are working in unsafe conditions, with one or two of them getting run over every day. AIRTU has written letters to the railway board, run campaigns on social media, and sent their demands to the Prime Minister and Railway Minister, but nothing has happened. He requested all category associations and KEC to organise a physical meeting where common demands like vacancies, surrendering of posts, privatisation and changes in labour laws can be discussed.
Dr. Hemant Soni (General Secretary, IRTCSO) said that a representation of IRTCSO met DoPT officials regarding NDA. DoPT officials said that their order is not applicable to railways. When IRTCSO representatives met the railway administration, they did not receive a satisfactory answer. IRTCSO then submitted a legal notice and were told that the Railway Board wanted to continue paying NDA but the order was sent to the Finance Ministry. However, if the Finance Ministry has not given the order to stop NDA, why does the Railway Board need their permission to resume NDA?
Dr. Soni also urged a joint physical meeting of all category-wise associations to formulate and forward a joint Charter of demands to the Railway Ministry. Next time, all category organisations should give a notice of mass casual leave. This is the only way that we will be able to create an impact and achieve our demands. He declared that IRTCSO is ready to host the first physical meeting.
Shri Amzad Baig (Central President, AIPMA) informed us that AIPMA was formed with four main demands: removal of New Pension Scheme, introduction of four-grade pay structure for Pointsmen, restoration of risk and safety allowance, and 48-hour duty rosters.
Shri Navin Kumar (Indian Railways S&T Maintainers’ Union) agreed with the suggestions of other leaders that category associations should unite.
Shri Sanjay Pandhi, Working President of the IRLRO stressed that we have to strengthen our unity and support one another.
After the speeches of the leaders, Com. Ashok Kumar showed videos of Com. Shailendra Dubey, Chairman, Al India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) and leader of National Coordination Committee of Electricity Employees and Engineers (NCCOEEE) and Com. C J Nandkumar, President, Bank Employees Federation of India extending their support to AISMA in the meeting of All India Forum Against Privatisation (AIFAP) on 22 May 2022. The floor was then opened for interventions.
Shri Kameswara Rao (Zonal President, AIREC/South Central Zone and Editor, Rail Sakthi), Shri Baidyanath Saha (Divisional Secretary, AISMA, Vijayawada, South Central Railway), Shri Sharadchandra Purohit, (General Secretary, AISMA, North Western Railway), Shri KC Meena (Media Head, Northern Railway Men’s Union), Shri Ashok Kumar Pandey (Senior Traffic Instructor, ZRTI, East Coast Railway, Muzaffarpur), Shri Mahendra Gupta (Track Maintainer), Shri A N Tiwari (National Vice President, AISMA) , Dr. Sanjeewani Jain (Vice President, Lok Raj Sangathan) and Ms. Riya (activist of Purogami Mahila Sangathana) expressed their views.
A large number of leaders and activists expressed their support to the station masters. They spoke about the need to involve the families and people at large in the spirit “An Attack on One is an Attack on ALL!”
A speaker pointed out that the overwork and undue stress that the railway workers are subjected to besides affecting them and their families, adversely affected the safety of all who travelled by train. That is why it was important to mobilise the support of crores of people. That would multiply their strength. The large number of vacancies and contractualization is an attack on the entire working class, including its future generations.
An important point was highlighted – while we fight for our immediate rights, we must also seriously question this system where those who are elected represent us only in name, but work for the corporate monopolies and against us. Further there is no mechanism by which we can bring them to book.
The meeting ended on a very positive note, with all determined to strengthen their unity and struggle for rights.
Demands of Station Masters