LAHORE: As Pakistan Railways (PR), the country’s second-largest department in terms of the number of employees and operations, is facing the worst financial crisis in its history as thousands of employees have threatened to observe a wheel-jam strike if their September salaries are not cleared by November 2.

Recent protests by rail employees have severely disrupted train operations nationwide, especially on the main line.

An office bearer of the PR Train Drivers Association said, “They (our high-ups) have given us the last date—November 2 - for payment of September’s salary. Let’s see if they do it or not. However, we have decided to go on a wheel-jam strike in the first week of next month in case our salaries are not cleared by November 2. That is absolutely the last date, as we will not postpone our strike call after passing this date.”

In a recent development, outgoing PR Chief Executive Officer Shahid Aziz told electronic media journalists that the department is facing a severe financial crisis and has requested a Rs 35 billion bailout package to maintain the vital state institution.

He mentioned that the department alone requires Rs5 billion to clear salaries and allowances. Furthermore, the department needs Rs 8 to 10 billion for track and rolling stock, as well as a substantial amount to clear long-standing departmental liabilities.

Another staffer explained, “We have never seen the situation we are witnessing these days, as we are yet to be paid our salary for the month of September. And if we are paid on November 2, our one month salary would be remained pending till clearance with the current month salary.”

He added that as per practice, rail employees are paid salaries on different dates. On first of every month, the staff posted at the offices of divisional superintendents, railway headquarters etc) is paid salary. On the 5th of every month, the station masters and their subordinate staff, officials posted at loco sheds, shunting staff etc are paid pays.

Likewise, the 10th of each month is fixed for the drivers, guards, conductor guards, and special ticket examiners, etc, while the gangmen, class-4 employees, temporary staff, daily wagers etc are paid wages on 16th of every month.

“But the situation is that all staff who were to receive salaries on 5th, 10th and 16th are yet to be cleared and the month of October is also about to close. Now we have heard that we will be paid salary on November 2,” he said, adding that a couple of days before, the departure of some major express trains delayed for up to seven hours due to strike by the employees at Lahore railway station. However, the drivers agreed finally after they were assured of payment on Nov 2.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the PR Lahore Division confirmed disruption in the train operation for the last couple of days due to strike of officials.

“On Friday, some trains couldn’t depart from Lahore to Karachi on time. Due to this, they reached Karachi late and subsequently departed from there to Lahore late. And all these arrived late at Lahore and departed late from here,” he explained.

He said Karakoram Express departed from Lahore to Karachi at 8:15pm instead of 3pm on Sunday. Business Express departed 9:30pm instead of 4pm, he added.

CAUGHT: Lahore Electric Supply Company (Lesco) teams on Sunday detected power pilferage by a local flour miller in the Raiwind area. The company’s spokesman told reporters that during an anti-theft operation, the Raiwind Sub-Division team found a local flour miller stealing electricity by illegal hooking on main transmission line in Mohallah Islamabad.

The team removed the power meter and transformer on the spot and imposed a fine of Rs800,000 on the miller, besides registering an FIR in this regard with area police.

Another inspection team detected power theft at a cloth shop in the Anarkali area where the shopkeeper was pilfering electricity by tempering with meter. He was charged with 9,400 units as detection bill.

Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2023

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