Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A union of anarchy driving Railways off track

Since their origins in pre-Inde pendence India, railway unions have evolved from being the cradle of idealism and springboard for political stalwarts to a move ment that employs brute force and power play. As party-led unions serving larger political ideologies lose strength, unable to keep up with the rough-and-tumble of competitive unionism, the sufferer may well be the Railways — and eventually passengers.

In the 1940s, the unions fought pitched battles against the police and the railway administration for retrenching several employees after the Nagapattinam workshop was moved to Golden Rock in Trichy and 12 employees were unreasonably dismissed from service in Trichy. Now, the unions function more as pressure groups that arm-twist officers and management to ensure their cadres get undue benefits.

A railway union can function only if it has recognition among a majority of employees. "There is no unity among railwaymen now. Each union stands for only its members. A recognized union always tries to target leaders and cadres of unrecognized unions. They make a lot of compromises and support the management," said Elangovan, former leader of CPM-affiliated Dakshin Railway Employees Union (DREU).

Proponents insist that it was the unions that gave railway employees their share of respect in an organization run like a paramilitary force. But others say that leverage is misused more often than not today. "Railway officers have a lot of power to punish an errant employee. This is to ensure that trains are run on time without disruption. However, unions that developed money and muscle power have managed to blunt the powers of the management. As a result, railways are not able to provide quality service to passengers," said an official.

For instance, officials say railway booking offices are not being expanded because of opposition from employees. There are around 24 counters in Moore Market Complex reservation centre but only 10 counters are used.

Southern Railway Mazdoor Union (SRMU), which is the sole recognized union in Southern Railway, through its affiliation to All India Railwaymen Federation, has delivered a lot of welfare and monetary benefits to the employees.

But its style of functioning is resented by railway officers. "Officers have come under attack more than once at Velach ery, Royapuram and at a workshop. The officers association sent petitions to the railway board pointing out the highhandedness of unionists but the management is not able to take action," said an official.

"If indiscipline is questioned, the employees approach the union that offers protection from transfers, vigilance cases and other disciplinary action. This is the reason trains are not maintained well. Officials who objected have come under pressure for this," he added.

SRMU general secretary N Kanniah refuted all these allegations. "These are all claims of people who do not like us. We intervene when there is an unjust move from the management against an employee. There are clear norms governing transfers which cannot be violated," he said.

Kanniah continued: "Officers were not manhandled in Velachery and Royapuram. There were only heated arguments. There are a lot of vacancies in railways. Employees had to put in more hours. We intervened to get overtime for employees," said Kanniah.

"The recognized union is run like a business. It is said that they have rate cards for blocking transfers, postings and other needs," says DREU's Elangovan.

But Kanniah says: "SRMU is popular because we ensure that our office-bearers meet employees and take down their grievances and try to negotiate with officers to get their due. This is done on a day-to-day basis. There is no deterioration of unions in railways. We work for overall interest of the employees. Individual interests are not allowed."


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