Some 8,000 temporary workers of Bangladesh Railway lost their jobs this July despite an acute manpower shortage in the state-run rail transport agency, citing that there is no allocation for them in the budget of FY24.
The railway currently has about 25,000 employees against approval for the recruitment of 47,637 manpower. That means about 22,000 posts remain vacant in the state agency.
Due to manpower shortage, the railway has been running its operation for a long time with temporary recruitment of fifth class employees on a Temporary Labor Recruitment (TLR) (no work, no wage) basis.
According to Railway data, more than 8,000 temporary workers have been working in various positions including Gatekeeper, P-Man, Wayman, and Khalasi for a long time. Their wages on a daily basis range from Tk500-575.
Ignoring the High Court orders on multiple writ petitions to regularise jobs of 1,000 TLR employees, Bangladesh Railway is going to appoint temporary workers by outsourcing instead of regularising long-term temporary employees.
Temporary employees who have been working for 3 to 10 years in the railway become angry about this.
Leaders of these temporary workers said the railway is not regulating these temporary workers even after working continuously for long. Rather it issued a circular for fresh recruitment in the post.
Due to the gatekeeper crisis, around 1,800 temporary gatekeepers were recruited in the two regions in 2016 under a quality improvement project. Currently, 1,505 of them are working.
On 10 May, the railway issued a circular for the recruitment of Project Recruited Gatekeepers/Gatemen to the permanent vacant posts under the revenue sector. It says project workers who have completed 2 years continuously are eligible for applying for the posts.
However, the railway authorities say the non-cadre recruitment policy of the Bangladesh Railway in 2020 does not allow the workers appointed under projects to be regularised in the revenue sector.
The Railway Recruitment Rules-2020 envisage outsourcing (contractual) for temporary workers' recruitment. Under the outsourcing method, workers will be employed through contractors so that later they cannot demand job regularisation.
Central Committee President of Bangladesh Railway TLR (Temporary) Oikya Forum Mohammad Hossain said, "Thousands of workers are passing their days amid great misery as most of the TLR workers are out of work from this July. Authorities say contractors will be requested to keep TLR workers in their workers' list."
"We have been agitating for a long time to regularise the temporary employees in the revenue sector in compliance with the High Court orders. But railways are depriving temporary workers day after day by disobeying the court orders," he added.
He demanded gradual regularisation of the project workers, after regularising the TLR employees in the revenue sector.
Eastern Railway General Manager (GM) Md Jahangir Hossain said, "The issue of regularisation of temporary railway workers is being processed as per the court's orders. A number of committees have also been formed to settle the issue. Through the new circular, some 4th class workers will be appointed on an urgent basis. There is no connection with the regularisation of TLR workers."
Organisations like Railways require skilled workers for workshops, mechanical, signal electrical, transportation, gatekeeping, porter, and operational management. If skilled manpower is not available through outsourcing, the entire railway sector may face a huge disruption in its operation.
Expressing his apprehension in this regard, the Director General of Bangladesh Railways wrote to the Railway Secretary on 13 June last year.
Regarding the matter, Eastern Railway GM Md Jahangir Hossain and Western Region GM Asim Kumar Talukder told The Business Standard, "There is no allocation for TLRs in the budget. Tenders for outsourcing will be floated after receiving approval from the finance ministry. Meanwhile, the authorities were asked to continue the jobs of only those who need to keep BR operational.