BANGALORE, December 26, 2013
98.3 p.c. South Western Railway workers favour general strike
In its first strike ballot since 1974, when a 20-day strike by the George Fernandes-led All India Railwaymen Federation (AIRF) brought the country’s railway network to a standstill, 98.3 per cent of over 30,000 workers in the South Western Railway (SWR) voted in favour of an indefinite general strike in a strike ballot this week. This is against a national average of 96 per cent workers in favour of a strike, if the Union government failed to meet their demands by March 2014.
The South Western Railway includes the Hubli, Bangalore and Mysore divisions and the two workshops in Hubli and Mysore. Compared to the South Western Railway, the vote in support of the strike was 81.6 per cent in Southern Railway.
Indian Railways, the country’s largest employer, employs over 13.5 lakh workers.
A.M. D’Cruz, general secretary of the South Western Railway Mazdoor Union, an AIRF-affiliate union, said that the call for the strike was first made in November 2012, to which the government responded “partially and as token” in September this year.
The strike call here has been widely supported by smaller trade groups within the railways such as loco pilots (represented by the All India Loco Running Staff Association) and station masters unions.
Mr. Cruz believed that the “huge and historic support” owes to the critical nature of the demands. The immediate trigger appears to be the decision on the new pension scheme for over 3 lakh employees, who have been appointed after January 2004, where their pension benefits will be linked to the market. However, he says, that there are 36 other demands, including increase in wages (bonus, transport and cadre restructuring), filling over 1.5 lakh vacancies and improvement of infrastructure in Railway hospitals. The union has also been opposing the increasing contractualisation of various services.
Much like the early 1970s, today the conditions are ripe for unrest and strike, said Sunish C. of the All India Loco Pilots Running Staff Association. The South Western Railway has over 2,000 loco pilots and there is discontent among whom on several issues ranging from wage structures to duty hours and infrastructure remaining unresolved, he said.
The union has supported the strike call because the railway workers have lost out over the years as their unions have always favoured cooperating with the management, he said. “Even when all the central trade unions went on strike last year, the railways unions refrained to not inconvenience commuters. But, the government has forced us into this,” he said.
John Vincent, president of the Station Masters Association, said that his association has supported the strike call because wages have remained stagnant despite inflation, and the Railways has been “anti-labour”. He said that there were large number of vacant posts among station masters — 20 to 30 per cent vacancies — which the Railways was not addressing.
“Due to this, we work extra shifts and hours, and sometimes are even denied a weekly off. The administration is also forcing supervisory posts in station masters’ to take up additional tasks such as signalling. This affects functioning, efficiency and safety of the Railways apart from the fact that it is exploitative of labour,” he said.