In the early morning of Tuesday 20th March 2018 at 7 a.m, thousands of apprentices who had completed their apprentice training in the Indian Railways occupied the railway tracks between Dadar and Matunga on the Central Railway lines in the heart of Mumbai city. They remained on the tracks till 11 a.m, completely paralysing the morning rush hour train movements on the Central Railways.
The apprentices, who are all members of the All India Railway Act Apprentice Association, had travelled from across Maharashtra, Bihar, Punjab and other states to demand permanent jobs with the Indian Railways having completed their railway apprenticeship programme set up under the central Apprentices Act, 1961. They claimed that before 2014, these technical jobs for which they had been trained were granted to most such trainees who had successfully completed their apprenticeship in the Railways.
One of the protesters who had travelled from Bihar to participate in the rail roko said “Now the Railways is hardly giving any jobs to its apprentices, and many of us have been sitting unemployed for three or four years even though we have the skills to do railway jobs. Since August last year we have held big protests in Delhi and Gorakhpur, written to more than 30 MPs and even met the Railways Minister, but all we got were false assurances.” This 23-year apprentice who completed his apprenticeship in 2015 as a “fitter” to install locomotive parts further said “With my skill of fitting locomotive parts, where else can I get a job apart from the Indian Railways? Where are the jobs that this government had promised in the name of Skill India?”
Another protester said, “They give us training but then they don’t want to employ us. How is this fair? People have come from all over India to protest. We will agitate further if our demands are not met.”
Yet another 24 year old protester who had come all the way from Kapurthala, Punjab and has been unemployed since 2014 said, “Before this quota was introduced, getting jobs in the Railways was almost a guarantee. But if they now give jobs to only 20% of the apprentices, where will the rest of the 80% go?”
He was referring to the reservation of 20% of technical railway jobs for trainees who complete their apprenticeships, established through a government notification in June 2016. One of the main demands of the protesting apprentices that this 20% quota should be removed and all apprentices who had successfully completed their training should be given employment.
At the same time the monopoly media went overdrive to portray the struggle of the protesting apprentices as being against the working people of Mumbai. The police tried to lathi charge the protesting students and lodged cases against them. However, seeing the determination of the youth the authorities were forced to give in. The protesting apprentices called off their Mumbai agitation later that morning after the Railways agreed to give them a reply within two days.
The Indian Railways trains apprentices under Apprentices Act, 1961 in certain designated trades. The Railways engages apprentices in the workshops of the Civil, Mechanical and S&T Engineering Departments, Production Units, Diesel and Electric Loco Sheds, Carriage and Wagon Depot and Electrification Projects.
As per the rules of the Railways, the number of apprentices to be recruited in the Civil, Mechanical and S&T Engineering Departments should be 3% of the total skilled strength available in the designated trades. The number of Apprentices to be recruited in the Diesel/Electric Loco-Sheds, C&W Depots, and Railway Electrification Projects should be 1 % of the total skilled strength available in designated trades.
There are three categories of Apprentices; these are a) Trade apprentices—either fresh candidates or ITI qualified candidates b) Technician apprentices (diploma holders) and c) Graduate Engineer apprentices. The largest by far is the first category who undergo four years of apprenticeship while the third category, the engineers undergo a one year apprenticeship. From the second year onwards these apprentices carry out all the work that regular employees in that trade are supposed to carry out. At the same time the stipend paid to these apprentices is much lower than the salary paid to regular employees. For example just before the revision as per 7th Pay Commission announced in 2016, the stipends paid during training was:
First year Rs. 1490 per month;
Second year Rs. 1700 per month;
Third year Rs. 1970 per month;
Fourth year Rs. 2220 per month
In the last few years with the launch of this Government’s Skill India initiative, the number of apprentices recruited to the Indian Railways has increased. In the year 2018-2019, 30,000 apprentices are to be hired all over India for the Railways. These apprentices will be trained at 16 zonal and seven production units, for roles across the Railways – like fitters, turners, machinists, welders, painters, carpenters, electricians, refrigerator and AC mechanics, vehicular mechanics, etc.
While there are a huge number of vacancies in the Indian Railways, instead of filling these up with regular permanent workers, the Railways is using the abundant skilled labour of our apprentice youth to run the operations of the Railways with the minimum cost under the pretext of training them.
The demands of the Apprentices of the Indian Railways are entirely just and need the support of all sections of the working class.