Mazdoor Ekta Lehar(MEL)
I am responding to the interview of Shri Dharmendra Kumar, Working President of All India Railway Track Maintainers Union (AIRTU), which appeared in MEL on 13/02/2021.
The Indian Railway which is the largest industry employing over 10 lakh workers is keeping its track maintainers in such appalling conditions. It is astonishing that the Indian Railway which should have been a model employer does not have a rule book stating the prescribed conditions of work for the track maintainers. So they are made to work beyond 8 hours and beyond their physical capacity. In addition due to shortage of staff, their work load is even more increased. This shortage is due to diverting track maintainers by higher officials to help in their office duty or even to attend to household duties!
It is very painful to know that track maintainers have to carry their work tools weighing 15 to 20 kg every day to their workplace. Since their work involves a lot of physical labour, they should have been provided nutritious meals by the railways. Both the trackman doing night patrolling of the tracks and the keyman inspecting every section of the tracks during the day, are sent alone without a partner which makes them susceptible to being run over by trains. It is shocking to note that there are more than 500 deaths recorded per year, yet the railway authorities are not concerned. It shows their callousness.
Also as the interview points out, the Railway Board has itself approved the provision of safety shoes, raincoats, Rakshak safety devices, winter clothes, goggles, gloves, medical kit etc to be supplied to track maintainers at regular intervals. But the reality is that they do not get any of these items. The question arises, what is preventing the railway authorities from implementing their own approved provisions?
Also as the interview points out, the track maintainers are not paid overtime for the extra work done beyond 8 hours duty. On the contrary, they have reduced the night allowance to Rs 118 from Rs 157. They are also not allowed to sit for promotion examinations to other departments. The railway authorities are treating the track maintainers like slaves.
Even as such, track maintainers do not have rest rooms or changing facilities. In case of women track maintainers, this causes a lot of inconveniences. There are many women track maintainers and they should be provided with rest rooms / changing rooms, toilet and bathing facilities. This is the very least that the railway authorities can do for the women.
The track maintainers’ demands are very just and the workers not only from the railways but also from other sectors and people from all toiling sections should support them. The workers, peasants and the toiling masses have to unite and raise each other’s issues because an attack on one is an attack on all.