Over 17 Oppn MPs write to Railway Minister highlighting work stress among loco pilots

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New Delhi, Jul 10 (PTI) Over 17 Members of Parliament from the opposition parties have written to Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw highlighting various issues that plague the train drivers and result in red-signal overshoot as well as accidents.

However, Vaishnaw in a social media post on Wednesday said the opposition is spreading a lot of misinformation to demotivate the loco pilots.

According to the railway minister, loco pilots' duty hour is less than eight hours in June 2024 and 7000 loco cabs and almost all (558) running rooms are now air conditioned.

After the loco pilot union, All India Loco Running Staff Association (AILRSA) approached these MPs and requested them to bring their problems to the notice of the railway minister, 5 MPs wrote separate letters while 12 sent a joint note recently demanding enhanced facilities and rest for train drivers.

The loco pilots from the South Zone have protested for 28 days from June 1, 2024 for availing a weekly rest period of 30 hours plus 16 hours of headquarter rest (totalling 46 hours) as according to them there is a Karnataka High Court’s order in their favour.

“It is our submission that lack of alertness from the part of crew is due to excessive fatigue and accumulated sleep debt on account of inadequate rest,” M Shanmugam, Rajya Sabha MP from the DMK, wrote in his letter.

“Even the High Power Committee on Railway Safety has recommended that continuous night duty for running staff shall be limited to two nights after which they must be granted at least one full night in bed before being booked again,” Shanmugam added.

Currently, railway norms permit four continuous night duties and loco pilots are demanding to reduce it to two nights.

According to Shanmugam, the railway administration has taken punitive action against those loco pilots who took weekly off for rest and he also demanded withdrawal of such actions.

CPI (M) MP S Venkatesan said that to ensure safety, ‘Weekly Rest’ should be given to the loco pilots as 30 consecutive hours rest after expiration of head quarter rest of 16 hours.

Dr T Sumathy (a) Thamizhachi Thangapandian, DMK MP Lok Sabha, said the loco pilots, working up to nine hours or more are still denied access to the most basic requirements such as toilets.

“In 2016, the National Human Commission ordered the Railways to provide air conditioning and toilets in the Engine room for the pilots,” Dr Sumathy wrote.

John Brittas, Rajya Sabha MP from the CPI (M), wrote in his letter along with other issues, “The staff are frequently required to work beyond the recommended 10-hour duty limit, contravening the assurances made by various committees and the then Labour Minister’s announcement in Parliament on 14.08.1973.” “Such prolonged work hours not only affect the well-being and efficiency of the staff but also jeopardize railway safety, particularly under challenging operational conditions,” Brittas added.

Highlighting inadequate weekly rest, Brittas said that the current provision of weekly rest is grossly inadequate, failing to meet even the basic standards recommended by the International Labour Organization and supported by judicial precedents.

“Often stationed away from their home bases, detached from their families, these staff members face significant challenges in fulfilling familial responsibilities,” Brittas said.

These MPs have expressed concern and said it is distressing to know that 18 locomotive pilots have been suspended, 16 subjected to administrative transfers, 17 served major penalty charge sheets along with about a hundred minor penalty charge sheets June 1, 2024 onwards.

“These punitive actions not only demoralize the employees but also severely impact the workload and operational efficiency,” Brittas said.

Some of the other opposition MPs who have supported the loco pilots’ demands are DMK MPs Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, Thiuchi Siva, Arun Nehru, Congress MPs Jebi Mather and Karthik Chidambaram among others. PTI JP AS AS