AIRF to hold Secret Ballot to decide on Railway Strike

NEW DELHI: Railway employees will go for a ‘secret ballot’ next month to decide upon going on strike to pressurize the government to meet their long pending demands.

The decision to call for the ‘strike ballot’ was taken by All India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), the biggest employees’ union which is up against the government’s move to push privatization of the state-run transporter.

Over 13.5 lakh railway employees will vote on December 20 and 21 to decide on calling a general strike to press for their ‘genuine’ demands.

As per generous estimates, a day’s strike could cause railways a loss of around 400 crore along with hindering movement of goods and hardship for the public.

The employees are agitated over the new pension scheme and are demanding that it be scrapped. Other demands include introduction of guaranteed pension and family pension schemes that were available prior to January 2004, payment of arrears and allowances to drivers of goods and passenger trains and removal of pay anomalies of the 6th Pay Commission.

The employees want filling of all vacant posts, including 1.5 lakh vacancies in safety category and 20,000 locomotive drivers, and sanctioning additional posts to meet the increase in workload due to increase in number of trains.

AIRF general secretary Shiva Gopal Mishra said the employees were ready for negotiation but they were being pushed to go on strike as the finance ministry was ignoring their ‘genuine’ demands.

“I am aware of the consequences of a railway strike but the government is not listening to our demands,” Mishra said, adding that finance ministry was trying to privatize railways. “There are 4.5 lakh contract labourers who are not given even minimum wages,” he said.

After seeking the employees’ mandate, the unions will serve a notice to the railway management.

The unions resorted to such a strike ballot in 2006 but the government averted a showdown by announcing the constitution of the 6th Pay Commission.

The country last faced a major railway strike in 1974 under the leadership of George Fernandes while the other two strikes were in 1960 and 1968. The unions had to resort to strike ballot only on three occasions, but the government moved decisively and negotiated a settlement.

AIRF, representing 10.26 lakh employees, is in talks with other unions to join the strike call. Leaders of the unions have indicated that the strike could be a reality in February 2014, warning the government that they are serious and not merely threatening.