Saturday, August 9, 2014

                         THE IMPORTANCE OF AUGUST 13
Against the pathetic working conditions and unlimited working hours the agitated loco running staff organized All India strike from 1973 August 1st.

          In the early morning on August 1, 1973, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Railway Minister L. N. Mishra woke up to the news that the train services all over the country has come to a grinding halt owing to the nationwide strike of the loco running staff. The news of the strike spread all over the country and abroad through the media such as AIR, BBC and news papers. As days passed, thermal plants were running short of coal resulting in power shortage, movement of rice, wheat, petroleum products and other essential commodities were badly affected and passengers were stranded in railway stations or had to cancel their planned journeys. The Parliament plunged into pandemonium. Members cutting across party lines supported the loco men’s strike and wanted the government to call AILRSA leaders for discussion on their demand for reduction of duty hours and other demands and an early end to the strike that had crippled the country.
          The government called AILRSA leaders for discussion. Many of them were flown by air to New Delhi for want of train services due to the strike and to save time in restoring train services. The talks started on August 10. The Railway Minister, the Labour Minister, Railway Board officials and AILRSA leaders participated. An agreement was reached on August 13 and the strike was called off. The main demand of reduction of duty hours was conceded and a Loco Running staff Grievances Committee (LRSGC) was formed under the chairmanship of Mohammed Shafi Qureshi, Minister of State for Railways, with members of Railway Board and AILRSA leaders to discuss and settle other issues. (Gradually this was extended to zonal and divisional levels.) The matters on which agreement was arrived at was prepared and signed by Labour Minister Raghunatha Reddy on behalf of Central Government and given to AILRSA leaders. Next day, Railway Minister made a statement in Parliament on the terms of agreement between the government and AILRSA. Both the agreement and the Minister’s statement in Parliament unequivocally stated that the loco running staff need not be required to work more than 10 hours at a stretch. All the loco men arrested for participating in the strike were released unconditionally. The days of absence from duty and the days under detention in jails were treated as leave.
But both the recognized Federations opposed any settlement with AILRSA, the Railway Board was also opposed it. They tried to sabotage the agreement
          The government and the railway officials went back from their commitment on 10 hours duty and from other commitments. Railway Board order on 10 hours duty was invalidated by the Board itself in the name of clarification and the CAT/ERS judgment on duty hours was distorted to raise the minimum duty hours to 13. LRSGC and other channels were abandoned. It is as if we have to start everything afresh.
          But the 1973 loco running staff strike is written in golden letters in the history of railway trade union movement as the only strike in Indian Railways that ended with a discussion and agreement with the staff representatives. The message is that if the employees are well organised, and if our demands are genuine, we can make even the government of the strongest Prime Minister to come to terms. And that is the importance of August 13.
SPAD:   Signal Passing At Danger (SPAD)
Signal passing at danger is an occupational hazard concerned to a Loco pilot. As there are occupational hazards connected with every kind of jobs in the world which do not attract capital punishment, earmarking capital punishment to Loco Running Staff alone for signal passing is a grave injustice as nobody does it willfully.
When railway is expecting 100% perfection from a Loco Pilot, they are willfully denying sufficient rest, Periodic rest, Leave, limitation of duty hours & night duties and better working condition & Pay package. Even though different committees are recommended for improving working condition and limiting working hours railway management is reluctant to implement it.
Railway repeatedly stating human failure as causes of accidents but refuse to investigate why humans are failing. In spite of so many accidents railway is unwilling to accept that inhuman rules of working conditions are causing human failure.
Latest studies states that MICRO SLEEP due to fatigue described as ; “ a brief, unintentional episode of loss of attention with a blank stare, head napping and prolonged eye closure that lasts from 2 to 30 seconds”, also known as nodding off with short term memory deficits occur at any time without any warning totally unaware to Loco Pilots.
Added to this visibility of signals, hidden behind OHE masts, tree branches or surrounded by numerous colour lights of hoardings or street light impairing visibility. Working in Long hood leading especially in WDP 4 loco motives is a nightmare for Loco Pilots.
Railway board has circulated the minutes of SPAD meeting which discuss almost all issues except Long Hood working.
Hence the signal passing cases without consequences may be considered as an indication of system failure and awarding of capital punishment may be with drawn.
          The SPAD meeting minutes (14.06.2012) also recommended to limit working hours, continuous night duties, improve the working conditions etc.


           AILRSA Madurai Division approached Regional Labour Commissioner challenging the Continuous classification.  RLC/Chennai recommended Intensive Classification.  But GM/SR went for appeal to Ministry of Labour and Joint Secretary Ministry of Labour which uphold the RLC decision.  Now the restless Railways approached the Honorable High Court of Chennai.

            Though various committees headed by renowned judicial members like Justice. G.S. Rajadhyaksha(1946), Justice. N.M. Miabhoy(RLT-1969), Justice. H.R. Khanna(RSRC-1998), and various trade unions asked to reduce the duty hours of running staff for the sake of safety in Railways and wellbeing of the workers, the HPC has not recommended to reduce the total working hours below 10 hours.

            The untiring and valiant struggles launched by  AILRSA has resulted in, the  Government of India  realizing and recognizing the dispute raised by AILRSA, consisting of  four  major demands, involves question of National importance and the need to address and resolve them , has constituted     through ministry of labour ,a National Industrial Tribunal(NIT),  under the Industrial disputes Act,1947, on 27-01-2012. Case is still going on.  Next hearing is on 12.09.2014.


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