ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Pakistan Railways has closed the Mughalpura railway workshop in Lahore till April 12, following the detection of coronavirus in a visitor to the premises, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said on Wednesday.
All necessary precautions, including quarantine, are being taken to clear and resume operation at the oldest locomotive workshop of Pakistan Railways where 10,000 employees work on shifts, he said.
The minister further announced that all employees of Pakistan Railways over the age of 50 and working in carriage factory in Islamabad, central diesel locomotive workshop in Rawalpindi and locomotive factory in Risalpur had been asked to go on leave without any cut in salary.
Pakistan Railways, he said, was losing revenue worth Rs1 billion every week, following the closure of trains as part of the countrywide shutdown. However, he added, the government had decided to compensate the railways losses in this regard. He thanked Prime Minister Imran Khan and Adviser to the PM on Finance Dr Hafeez Shaikh for considering providing subsidy to Pakistan Railways. He assured all railway employees and pensioners that there would be no obstruction in the payment of salaries and pensions.
Employees over 50 years of age in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Risalpur sent on paid leave
Shaikh Rashid said that there were 1,675 ‘kulis’ (loaders) at all railway stations, and it had been decided that they would get Rs12,000. The matter was taken to the cabinet where the prime minister gave approval for the payment under the Ehsaas programme.
Meanwhile, officials said the top PR authorities were not interested in closing down the workshops with 5,000 employees until the Lahore administration intervened after some workers tested positive.
The Punjab administration was closely watching the situation and finally wrote a letter to the PR administration.
“The PR top authorities were earlier not even interested in suspending its passenger trains’ operations. But finally they were forced to do so last month in view the reports related to spread of coronavirus. But the PR continued keeping its workshops in Lahore and other cities, claiming it has done a lot for social distancing and safety/protection of its employees working in the workshops,” an official told Dawn.
“An employee at the engine/diesel shed tested positive first and later negative. His father contracted the virus through him, who is also a railway employee (commercial supervisor at Badami Bagh railway station) as well as a brother in last seven days or so,” the official said.
The PR ignored this and continued work at the workshops, said the official, requesting anonymity.
Later, he said, the patients were shifted to a known public sector hospital in Lahore and their house was marked as an isolated premise by the local health authorities with issuance of warning to the neighbours to be careful.
“They [the officers] were of the view that social distancing in the PR workshops was not possible at all since there are several jobs where the workers need to gather and perform. They also expressed fear of Covid-19 spread if the workshops are not closed. And finally, it happened in the form of a couple of employees tested positive,” said another source.
“It is really a criminal negligence on the part of those taking such decisions. And in case more Covid-19 cases emerge, the institutions concerned must grill those endangering the lives of railway employees,” he warned.
The Railways’ Workers Union (CBA) has also criticised the PR authorities’ alleged lethargic and non-serious behaviour towards adopting the Covid-19 measures.
“We held protest demonstrations many times, wrote letters and used social media to build pressure on the PR to shut workshops and factories to avert spread of virus. But they didn’t bother. And finally, they closed such premises after having coronavirus positive cases,” the union’s general secretary Rana Masoom Ali told Dawn.
“I have also heard that an employee of PR’s carriage factory in Lahore has also been shifted to hospital on Wednesday after he developed Covid-19 symptoms,” he added. “The union would hold top railway authorities responsible if the virus spreads in other employees too in future,” he warned.
According to the PR’s Lahore division chief Amir Nisar Chaudhry, the engine sheds and workshops were closed to avert spread of the virus. “The decision was taken after detection of virus in an employee. In the meantime, we have decided to wash the entire sheds, workshops, washing lines, etc, with chlorinated water,” he said.
Published in Dawn, April 9th, 2020