Railways: Drivers who suffered miscarriages beg the Maternity Benefit Act

The job of a loco pilot us notified as arduous in the Railways Act and thus should allow for pregnant persons to be transferred to lighter duties

Representative image of Surekha Yadav, Asia's first woman loco pilot (photo courtesy @pankajbhatta/X)
Representative image of Surekha Yadav, Asia's first woman loco pilot (photo courtesy @pankajbhatta/X)


A group of women train drivers who suffered miscarriages while attending to their duties has called on the Railways Board to frame guidelines that direct the transfer of expecting female frontline workers to lighter or stationary jobs in offices, in consonance with the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017.

They have written to the Railway Board saying that the Act prohibits an employer to engage a pregnant woman in a job of an arduous nature as it can interfere with her pregnancy.

"The job of a loco pilot has been notified as arduous in nature in the Railways Act, and section 4 of the Maternity Benefit Act categorically says that women employees cannot be asked to do jobs which are arduous in nature," a female loco pilot, who suffered multiple miscarriages due to her harsh working conditions, said.

Women train drivers say entering the engine cab itself is a challenge as the height of the handle of the cab ladder is around six feet from ground level.

"At railway stations, it is easy to come out and get into the engine cab, but in railway yards or out-of-station areas, it is extremely difficult due to its height from the ground. We have to hold the handle of the cab ladder tight and pull ourselves up, taking all our weight on both hands, to access the first step of the ladder," the loco pilot said, adding that this kind of activity is prohibited for pregnant women.

The women also share various other challenging activities they have to perform as loco pilots or assistant loco pilots (ALPs).

"In case of alarm chain pulling, those who work as ALPs have to go to the coach concerned to fix it even during late at night. There have been cases in which women ALPs, while rushing towards the coach, lost their balance and fell on the ground in the dark and injured themselves," another woman loco pilot said.

"If a cattle is hit by the engine and gets entangled into it, it is the duty of the ALP to come out of the engine cab and pull out the trapped cattle or its body parts. It is a physically exhausting and emotionally draining job," she added.

Some women loco pilots who have delivered babies say they went on leave without pay during the early pregnancy period as they get maternity leave for only eight weeks before the expected delivery date, in accordance with law.

"We request our seniors to put us on lighter jobs, but they refuse saying there is no such policy," a woman train driver who recently delivered a baby said.

The railway trade unions and loco pilots' bodies have backed the contention and written to the Railway Board demanding stationary jobs for such women for a certain period before and after childbirth, as vouchsafed in the Act.

On 8 January, the women's wing of the Indian Railway Loco Runningmen Organisation (IRLRO) submitted various grievances of women train drivers to the chief labour commissioner (central).

One of their complaints regarding the absence of a provision for light duty during pregnancy read: 'Many of the women are facing miscarriages as there is no light duty provision, since the job of a loco pilot is notified as arduous in nature under governing rules, amounting to the violation of section 4 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961.'

'We are also bereft of the facility of any nursing break during 11 hours of running duty, amounting to violation of section 11 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961," the complaint letter added.

Section 11 of the Act says: 'Every woman delivered of a child who returns to duty after such delivery shall, in addition to the interval for rest allowed to her, be allowed in the course of her daily work two breaks of the prescribed duration for nursing the child until the child attains the age of 15 months.'

Women drivers who are also lactating mothers say they are sent to outstation jobs in complete disregard of the Maternity Benefit Act, due to which they remain away from home for 2–3 days at a time, rather than just hours.

"Many of us who do not have earned leaves go on leave without pay for childcare. Unless the Railway Board frames guidelines in this regard, women frontline workers will continue to suffer," a female loco pilot from the Kota Rail Division said.

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