Tragic death of commuter: Railways must ensure passenger safety at all timesView(s):
With the country preoccupied with the Channel 4 documentary on the Easter Sunday attacks, the disturbing tragedy, in which a youth travelling on the roof of a train fell to his death, did not receive the attention it deserved. The strike launched by the Locomotive Engineers Union resulted in hundreds of commuters travelling on the footboards of trains and, in some cases, on the roofs of trains to get to their places of work.
The sight of commuters precariously hanging on to their lives on the footboards of trains is not entirely new. Even in normal times, this does happen when trains are delayed, but it is mostly observed when railway workers launch strikes that disrupt normal train services.
When railway workers resort to sudden strike action with little or no notice to the public, commuters are left high and dry. The only difference this time was that in the incident last week, a youth in his twenties met with an untimely and tragic end.
n The question that must be asked is: who is responsible for this loss of life?
The first impulse is for people to blame the railway workers who resorted to strike action. Many commuters seen on television channels badmouthed the striking workers for their trade union action, which resulted in many of those going to work or returning home being left stranded. The same sentiments are often expressed when patients who turn up at government hospitals find either doctors or other medical staff on strike. Some even blamed the Railway workers for the death.
In the case of the railway strike last week, there is no doubt that the Railway Department failed in its duty to ensure the safety of the passengers. The Railway Department, like other public transport operators, has the duty to provide the facilities for commuters to get from one destination to another. But that duty includes the obligation on the part of the transport provider to do so, taking every measure possible to ensure the safety of those who use the service.
In this instance, the department failed to do so, and, as a result, one person lost his life while others travelled dangerously to their destinations. What the Railway authorities should have done and should do in the future is ensure that only passengers who can travel safely are allowed to get onto the trains if and when railway services are curtailed for whatever reason.
While unions may bear some responsibility for the strike without notice, it is equally essential to hold the Railway Department accountable for passenger safety. The shortage of trains should not have led to passengers resorting to dangerously travelling on the footboard and the roof. It is the duty of the department to ensure the safety of passengers at all times, regardless of labour disputes.
There is also no denying that commuters are inconvenienced when workers resort to strike action without notice. It is the government’s responsibility to create a proper protocol for workers to resort to trade union action in a way that minimises the inconvenience to the public.
The government should not do so unilaterally but rather in consultation with the trade unions. The National Labour Advisory Council of the Ministry of Labour can be utilised to obtain the views of the stakeholders, and an agreed-upon process can be worked out.
The trade unions and working class often have legitimate grievances that are sometimes ignored by the employers—both state and private sectors. Thus, the mechanisms that are put in place must provide for the addressing of such grievances. Failure to do so and suppressing workers without the employer engaging with employees would be unjust and create unnecessary tensions in society.
The right to strike is an important right for workers. But it must only be used as a last resort after exhausting all other remedies. It must also be balanced in such a way as not to cause inconvenience to the public. It should be used with extra care, particularly in areas which have a great impact on services that can cause great inconvenience to the public, like transport and health.
However blameworthy the unions may have been for striking without adequate notice, it is still incumbent on the Railway Department to ensure the safety of passengers at all times. Just because there was a shortage of trains, passengers should not have been allowed to travel dangerously on the footboard and the roof.
The right to strike is a cornerstone of workers’ rights, providing employees with a collective bargaining tool to advocate for their interests. It empowers workers to negotiate with their employers on issues such as wages, working hours, safety standards, and other essential aspects of their employment.
One crucial aspect of exercising the right to strike is to consider the impact of such action on the public. Strikes in sectors such as transportation and healthcare can disrupt essential services, inconveniencing the public and, in some cases, jeopardising public safety. Therefore, it is vital for unions to strike a balance between the way they articulate their demands and the potential inconvenience their actions may cause society.
While accountability must be upheld, it is essential that both labour unions and employers prioritise public safety, ensuring that disputes do not escalate to the detriment of innocent individuals. In the end, a responsible exercise of the right to strike can lead to positive changes for workers without compromising public well-being.
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