By Dr. A Mathew, General Secretary, Kamgar Ekta committee (KEC)
Base on inputs received from Com. M. N. Prasad, Secretary General, All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA)
Even a child can understand that his or her safety during train travel crucially depends on the well-being of the engine driver. In our country the number of daily passengers using the IR (Indian Railways) is the highest in the world. The average number of people who travel by train every day is higher than the entire populations of countries like Australia! In that case, the well-being of LP and ALP (Loco Pilots and Assistant Loco Pilots, as the engine drivers are called) is all the more crucial. However, it is shocking but true that the conditions of work of this category of railway workers is horrifying, and the impact on their health as well as on the safety of all who travel by train in India is extremely adverse.
The working conditions of LP and ALP
Severe overwork under terrible conditions
- More than 20% of the posts are always kept vacant. According to the Task Force Committee Report, the total strength of loco running staff (LP and ALP) is 83098 while their total sanction strength is 104446.
- As a result, it is exceedingly difficult for them to get leave. Besides this, for the majority, duties exceed 8 hours, and for 5%-10% of the staff, they even exceed 14 hours at a stretch! The railway administration violates the rules about periodic rest and mandatory rest at Head Quarters. Workers everywhere in the world are entitled to a weekly rest of at least 40 hours. This includes 24 hours of a day off as well as 16 hours between duties. However in the case of LP and ALP of the IR they only get either 30 hours of rest 4 times a month or 22 hours of rest 5 times a month! In the latter case please note that they do not even get a complete day off! To add to this, their duty times are uncertain and keep changing.
- The feeling of isolation resulting from all this, the resultant mental stress, and the stress on their family members as well as the impact on their health can be easily imagined. The vast majority of them become medically unfit before retirement age. The inhuman working conditions have serious adverse effects on the life span of loco pilots.
- Another large number of loco pilots “voluntarily” leave service prematurely. In actual fact they are compelled to do so without any compensation, if they fail to maintain their level of concentration and fitness.
- A number of reports, such as the Karolinska University (Sweden) Stress Research Report, the Dr. Rajesh Ranjan report and the RDSO (Railway Design and Standards Organisation Report on the working condition of loco running staff all agree that the occupational health hazard index of loco running staff is highest as compared to all workers in the railways and across all transport sectors. The psychosomatic effects of longer hours of work, continuous night duty, unscheduled duty, high stress level, etc. have its adverse effect on alertness and reaction times, which directly affect safety. The Railway Administration has not lifted a finger to address these serious and life threatening issues.
- Despite this, the administration is further decreasing staff strength! The motive in the case of every revision of train timings is to increase the distance covered in a single duty and further reduce the rest time at Head Quarters and outstations. EMU (Electro-mechanical units) and DEMU (Diesel Electro Mechanical Units) are being used instead of conventional passenger rakes, and high speed and high capacity locos and wagons are being introduced in order to reduce staff strength.
- Loco running staff who are unable to maintain the required highest level of fitness, mainly due to heavy work stress and inadequate rest are decategorised. The medical decategorisation process is wilfully delayed for years together and the entire period is treated as sick leave in violation of the IRMM (Indian Railways Medical Manual).
- Additional Pension benefits of running staff are denied to decategorised running staff, violating the provisions of the Disability Act and also the Railway Pension Rules. Running staff covered by NPS (New Pension Scheme) are also denied this benefit.
- Medically decategorised staff is not absorbed in equivalent posts and seniority is not being given properly, thus depriving them of what is rightfully theirs.
Improper and unjust treatment in case of accidents
- The Railway administration, especially zonal and divisional administrations, are not operating the train services as per the laid down safety rules and they pressurize the staff to make them violate safety rules. Every short cut or unsafe practice finally has the impact of increasing the stress and strain on the running staff.
- Investigations of accidents are not conducted as per the laid down guidelines, with technical investigation support and with psychometric assessment process. The fault of the administration is never accepted. Even 34 years after the Justice Khanna Committee recommended that the attitude of enquiry committees should change from ‘who went wrong’ to ‘what went wrong’, there has been no change in the way enquiry committees are conducted.
- In case of accidents, LP and ALP are often held responsible whether they are at fault or not. Inhuman penalties are imposed on the running staff for every accident caused due to intolerable working conditions.
Low salaries and promotion opportunities
- Though engineering graduates are the ones mostly recruited as ALP, they have a very low starting pay scale of level 2 (Rs. 1900 basic). Though there are increasing levels of work and responsibility as the they move to Mail, Express and then Rajdhani, there are only two other grades of basic pay – Rs. 2400 and Rs. 4200.
- Running allowance is fixed taking the minimum of basic pay instead of mean pay and thereby allowances are reduced by a third for the entire running staff.
- Industrial disputes regarding pay anomalies in the 6th CPC (Central Pay Commission) were sent for adjudication by the National Industrial Tribunal in 2011. They are still pending due to the deliberate and criminal delaying tactics of the administration.
- Loco pilots suffered 3O% pay cut during cancellation of trains due to Covid because they lost their running allowance through no fault of theirs. No compensation was given, violating the Running Allowance Rules.
The AILRSA has been fighting against every decision of the Central Government and Railway Administration that affects the workers and general public, including attempts at privatising the railways.
Their struggle is just and deserves our support in the spirit “An Attack on One is an Attack on All!”