New Delhi: The Indian Railways has sought permission to hire only men for posts which have “tough and unfavourable” conditions.
The “running staff” such as drivers, porters, guards and gangmen (employees who inspect tracks) are needed to be available at any time. The railways believes that these working conditions are unfavourable for female employees.
The railways claimed that female employees serving in these posts have submitted several representations complaining of unsafe and tough working conditions. Instead of addressing these concerns, the railways has moved to block women from being hired.
According to the Hindustan Times, it has written to the department of personnel and training (DOPT) seeking permission to hire only men for these posts. S.N. Agrawal, member (staff) of the Indian Railways, said the move was taken because “safety of women and working conditions are the primary concern”.
“The former chairman of the Railway Board received a representation from women staff of Indian Railways following which a letter has been written to DOPT suggesting women should be excluded from few jobs,” he said.
The request is unlikely to be accepted by the DOPT as it would amount to discrimination on the basis of gender. Sri Prakash, a retired member of the railways, told HT, “Railways cannot discriminate on the basis of gender but the fact is that these jobs are tough irrespective of the gender. The running staff gets additional benefit because of the tough nature of the job. I don’t think DOPT will agree to the Railway’s request.”
Sanjay Pandhi, working president of Indian Railways Loco Running Men Organisation, said that the department should provide better facilities to everyone. “Railways does not have required infrastructure for women and that’s why they want women to not come forward for these jobs. Instead of excluding women, railways should improve the facility for them,” he said.
A report published by Outlook in November last year revealed that of the more than 500 women drivers employed by the railways, only about 20% were deployed to do their primary job. While a driver is expected to log around 70,000 km every year, an RTI query found that for women drivers, the average was sometimes as low as 500 km.
Most divisions do not put women on night duty or give them only short-distance trains. This is because the trains lack amenities such as toilets. Often, women drivers are asked to “voluntarily” perform desk jobs.
A union leader told Outlook that the women are not officially transferred to other departments but asked to work there voluntarily. “So who will fill the gap?” he asked. A woman driver said senior officials were indifferent. “Seniors don’t want to encourage women to drive trains because they know if they do, they will have to create amenities and take responsibility,” she said.
According to a report by tabled in the parliament in 2015, women constitute only 6.7% of the total employees. “This poor representation is not just among those involved in arduous operational activities but also among those in the higher rung of administrative ladder. Though women are deployed in all spheres of railway activity, be it among loco pilots or trackmen, the Committee observe that due to prolonged working hours, shift duty, etc. women have lesser career prospects in the Railways,” the committee on empowerment of women’s report said.
The report also said that the railways set up 45 creches to provide childcare facilities for female employees, but most were wound up after they did not receive adequate applicants. The committee observed that though female employees were provided with restrooms and toilets, the railways should review the quality and create more facilities as per the requirement.