KARACHI/LAHORE: Labour leaders of the Pakistan Railways (PR) at Karachi and Lahore on Friday strongly reacted to the statements and attitude of Railways Minister Azam Khan Swati who, according to them, not only insulted poor pensioners for demanding their dues but also used harsh language against PR employees and held them responsible for the huge losses being incurred by the institution.

Railway Workers Union chairman Manzoor Razi and PR Train Drivers’ Association president Shams Pervaiz described the minister’s statements and attitude uncalled for and demanded an apology from him.

Mr Razi also demanded immediate removal of the minister at a meeting of the union held at the City Station, Karachi, on Friday to discuss the situation arising out of the minister’s remarks.

He said the PR had been a profit-making institution until 1975 but the successive governments ruined it.

The meeting was also attended by All Pakistan Trade Union Alliance general secretary Naseem Rao.

Mr Pervaiz, speaking to Dawn in Lahore narrated details of the episode, saying: “Our pensioners headed by a retired train driver, Mr Sabir, met the minister during his visit to the Kotri railway station and locomotive shed [on Thursday]. But the minister, instead of promising clearance of retired workers’ dues, held PR employees responsible for the destruction caused to the institution. He also called them thieves”.

A wave of unrest swept through PR workers when a video showing Mr Swati’s attitude with some workers at the Kotri station went viral on the social media.

Mr Swati was heard telling the delegation: “I hope you will not mind what I am going to say. You have no right to claim pension. The reason is that you have caused a loss of Rs1.2 trillion to my country (railways). You didn’t do any work”.

Alluding to PR employees as a whole, he in the video remarked: “You have committed theft. You have [destroyed] the Railways, which was left by the British for us ... the pension is not an issue. But, in developed/big countries, it is paid where workers earn their governments [some profits]”.

A worker present at the meeting retorted: “Then get us arrested if we are thieves”.

The minister then controlled himself and said: “Oh you took my words the other way.” But he did not take back the blame, and went on to say: “But despite all this, the PR has constituted a committee to resolve this [pension] issue. And until it is resolved, you people show some patience ... till that time, I excuse for not doing anything for you”.

He told the delegation that the issue of pension would hopefully be resolved within the next two months.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021

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