THOUSANDS of the Pakistan Railways (PR) workers from across its seven divisions gathered at the Railways Headquarters on Tuesday and warned the Railways administration and the government against apathy towards the sinking boat of the PR.
They were holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans against the PR establishment. They said continued negligence regarding the affairs of the Railways would result in its total collapse which would result not only in serious labour unrest but also irreversible losses to ordinary working people across the country who relied on the institution for transportation.
The protest was called by the Rail Bachao Ittehad which featured the Railway Workers Union (Open Line), PREM Union and Railway Mehnatkash Union. It started with a rally from the Railway Station to the PR Headquarters where a meeting went on for about three hours.
Speaking on the occasion, Railway Workers Union President Aashiq Chaudhry said that the ‘restructuring’ agenda of the international financial institutions (IFIs) had completely failed despite the induction of highly paid private sector professionals in the Railways. The institution had not only retreated from its subsidised consumer travel to the under-serviced areas but the its overall performance had also deteriorated, he said, adding that a situation were being deliberately created to pave the way for Railways’ privatization.
Manzoor Razi said that in fact the revival of PR required a rejection of the IFI policies alongside a revival of the institution’s cargo and freight service. He said the Railways was an extremely profitable organization until the 1980s when the National Logisitics Cell was created under General Saeed Qadir which steadily captured all of Railways’ cargo and freight business. It was this cargo and freight business which allowed Railways to subsidise consumer travel and the continuing monopoly of the NLC on cargo-freight business across Pakistan spells disaster for not only Pakistan Railways but other public sector enterprises too. Other speakers included Professor Aasim Sajjad, Ishtiaq Aasi, Siddique Baig and Junaid Awan, all of whom said that the Railways administration was not at all serious in extricating the institution from financial crisis while the mainstream political party leadership also showed very little concern for the critical situation. They said that in such a situation workers were left with no option but to resort to protests and strikes even though the trade union leadership in PR understood that it was in the interests of the anti-Railway lobby for the institution to be paralysed.
The Rail Bachao Ittehad leadership warned that there was no time for the elected government to waste time on slogans and action must be taken immediately, not at the behest of the IFIs, but in ht interest of Railways’ almost 100,000 workers and the millions more across the country who relied on the service. They said that if no serious action was taken in the summer, the Rail Bachao Ittehad would issue a complete strike call. Meanwhile, the Rail Mazdur Ittehad (RMI) has called off its nationwide strike after assurance by PR GM Operations Junaid Qureshi. Qureshi met a delegation, headed by RMI Head Hafiz Suleman Butt and RMI office-bearers, and assured that the GP fund and Travel Allowance of the railway employees would be paid in time. This assurance resulted in RMI calling off the strike announced for March 21 at the protest rally held by RMI on Monday.