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Southern Railway suspends loco pilots for 46-hour ‘rest’

In an unprecedented move, the Southern Railway has suspended at least 29 loco pilots/assistant loco pilots and initiated disciplinary action against many others for taking a 46-hour break from duty.

Trade unions say the action was taken after the loco pilots availed the mandatory 16-hour rest on return from outstation trip, along with their weekly off or periodical rest of 30 hours.

After several protests and representations demanding implementation of the rest schedule as per rules went unheeded, the loco pilots launched a protest on June 1, by availing headquarters rest (16 hours), along with their weekly off (30 hours).

Though a majority of the suspensions were revoked in a few days pending disciplinary action, the All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) says the agitation would be intensified and would soon spread to other zones of the Indian Railways. 

The suspension of loco pilots comes at a time when there are thousands of vacancies in the safety categories, especially loco pilots, which forced the railways to notify recruitment of 18,799 posts of assistant loco pilots, more so, in the backdrop of increasing train accidents. 

The AILRSA has been alleging that the loco pilots were being deployed for long working hours without adequate rest as per rules, which was leading to stress and fatigue resulting in incidents such as Signal Passed At Danger (SPAD).

AILRSA central organising secretary V. Balachandran was among the 29 other loco pilots who were suspended. Besides suspension, many loco pilots were transferred or given minor punishments for taking part in the protest. 

“There were clear-cut orders by the Ministry of Labour in 2001 and Karnataka High Court in 2012 that we are entitled to headquarters rest (16 hours) and periodical rest (30 hours) four times a month,” says Mr. Balachandran. Though the Ministry of Railways was party to these cases, they had not implemented the orders till date. 

“After adopting all democratic options like giving representations, staging dharnas, etc., we are now left with the only option of availing the rest on our own without causing any disruption to trains. The protest will spread to other zones soon, which may impact operation of trains resulting in inconvenience to travelling public,” Mr. Balachandran said. 

Railway’s response 

Southern Railway Chief Public Relations Officer M. Senthamil Selvan said the loco pilots were typically rostered for eight hours of duty followed by eight hours of rest on outstation duty or 16 hours of rest at home station as per the Hours of Employment Regulations (HOER). 

In addition, they were given 30 hours of rest at home station four times a month. 

“These rules are being followed all over 68 divisions of Indian Railways. These provisions allow enough rest to crew and are in force for several years. There are no directives from the Railway Board to change any of the above provisions,” he said.

Asked if it was true that the running staff had not been allowed to take 46 hours of rest despite a court order, Mr. Selvam said there was no provision to give 16+30 hours of rest. “The 30-hour rest is to be given four times a month by extending the 16 hours of regular rest. Thus, 30 hours is not over and above 16 hours but it is a substitute for 16 hours of rest.”

On the suspension and action against locopilots, he said there were directions from the Railway Board  to use the penal provisions under the Railways Act, 1989, for disrupting the normal working of trains. “The same is being followed in the present case. Action has been taken against a few staff under the Discipline and Appeal Rules for disrupting train services in Thiruvananthapuram and Palghat divisions,” he said.

In a letter to the Southern Railway General Manager, AILRSA secretary-general James K.C said the headquarters rest of 16 hours and periodical rest of 30 hours were independent of each other. “Dispute starts when railway curtails the 16-hour headquarters rest whenever the locopilot or assistant locopilot avails periodical rest,” he said. 

Referring to the suspension, transfer and other actions against the running staff, he said the situation appeared “to be becoming alarming affecting the harmonious relationship between the loco running staff and the administration.”

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