More and More Track Maintainers are falling victim to Corona!

Rail Authorities must take the necessary preventive steps and protect the track maintainers!

Statement of All India Guards Council (AIGC), All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA), All India Station Masters Association (AISMA), All India Traffic Controllers Association (AITCA), All India Rail Track Maintainers Union (AIRTU), All India Railway Employees Confederation (AIREC) – Western Railway, Central Railway Track Maintainers Union (CRTU), Indian Railway Signal and Telecom Maintainers Association (IRS&TMA) and Kamgar Ekta Committee (KEC).

June 3 2020

From the beginning of the lockdown in the country, rail workers have been working hard, even putting themselves at risk of infection from Corona, to ensure the supply of all essential goods across the country. Railway authorities have used the suspension of passenger trains to speed up pending track maintenance all over the country. Due to this and because many track maintainers are not able to report for duty due to the lockdown, the workloads of those who are able to come to work have gone up in comparison to normal times.

Many track maintainers, who form the majority of the staff of the Indian Railways, are falling victim to Corona. Reports to this effect have come from Pune as well as from Ahmedabad, Jodhpur, and Rohtak.

Due to the very nature of their work, physical distancing is impossible for track maintainers. They have to work in close proximity, for example to lift a rail track and do other maintenance work, which involves a lot of combined physical exertion. In addition, in big cities like Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, and so on, many of them do not stay near their places of work. Since their living conditions are poor they are liable to get infected from the localities that they stay in and they can easily become carriers of the disease and spread it among others. All this makes the chance of contracting the disease more likely and the situation is very worrisome for them and their families.

In addition to this the authorities in many places are not distributing sufficient amount of sanitisers and safety masks. In some areas a gang of 10 to 12 track maintainers were given 100 ml of sanitisers and 2 safety masks for each person at the beginning of the lockdown. These safety masks have not been replaced even after 60 days of lockdown! After 45 days, an additional 300 ml of sanitiser was provided to the whole gang. These are grossly inadequate amounts of necessary protective equipment. Also as per the Government’s own guidelines, workers above 50 years of age should preferably not be called for work, especially where heavy physical work is involved. Despite this in many areas, workers above 50 years of age are also being called.

If the track maintainers fall prey to Corona, they have great difficulty in getting admitted to the railway hospitals and they are forced to get admitted in private hospitals and pay exorbitant fees to get treated. For example a track maintainer in Ahmedabad, had to pay Rs. 3.5 Lakhs for the treatment! Also once a track maintainer has been found to be infected, the other members of his gang are not tested for Corona, nor quarantined for the mandatory 14 days. They are called to work, violating the national safety protocols. This causes additional stress for the track maintainers and their families.

In addition, in many Divisions, the track maintainers are being forced to report for work, even though they are in red zones. Those track maintainers who do not report for work are penalised and their salaries are cut. Those who do not report for work continuously following the State Governments’ Guidelines (for example Maharashtra State has recommended that workers should come on alternate days) are penalised for their days of absence. Also in many cases in big cities such as Mumbai the long distance of residence of track maintainers from their places of work and the absence of regular transport service, makes their travel even more difficult. Despite this, their salaries are cut on the whims and fancies of their supervisors. This has forced some of them to take up temporary accommodation near their place of work, often in the tool rooms in which their tools are kept, which are not suitable for accommodation purposes. No food arrangements have been made for them. In these hard times when people are being advised to eat healthy food and build up their immunity, these track maintainers who do hard physical labour are forced to survive on whatever they can manage, living as they are away from home. This as well as the unhygienic conditions makes them even more vulnerable to other diseases as well, like malaria, etc.

Track maintainers are a most vital link in the chain which keeps the entire railways running. They are considered to be at the lowermost level of the hierarchy, are often neglected and their working conditions are dangerous. This cannot be allowed to happen!

In order to protect track maintainers we demand the following should be immediately implemented:

a) It should be the responsibility of the management to ensure that affected track maintainers are promptly admitted to the nearby Railway or Government hospital and given proper treatment. The harassment and mental stress caused to track maintainers due to delay in admission procedures should be immediately addressed.

b) Once a track maintainer has been found positive, all the Gang members should be immediately screened and tested and quarantined for the stipulated 14 days. (This is as per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India.)

c) The duty roster of track maintainers should be made so as to ensure maximum protection of the workforce. This may require alternate days working for track maintainers, or else a period of continuous duty followed by an equal period of rest.

d) Track maintainers who are residing near containment zones are especially vulnerable and the authorities should take special care of such track maintainers, to monitor their health and well being so that they as well as other gang members are protected.

e) There should be no cut in salary for any of the above a) to d).

As Corona is spreading throughout the country, there are reports coming from all over the country of different categories of rail workers getting infected. For example, in the Southern Railway, Sr. D. En. / W, Sr. DOM, Sr. DEE (op), DEE (op), CTLC have all been tested positive. The CLI’s and other controllers have been put under quarantine. The concerned authorities have called for a review of protocols at work sites, especially crew lobbies, sheds, etc. and sanitisation of loco cabs to be ensured.

We demand that the railway authorities not only do the review and carry out the disinfection immediately without any delay, but also promptly take all steps to protect the rail workers!

Contact: 9320001908, 9569119921, 9960711666.

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