Southern Railway’s Madurai division withdraws conditions for availing of sick leave

A photograph of the letter withdrawing the controversial leave policy at Southern Railway’s Madurai Division

A photograph of the letter withdrawing the controversial leave policy at Southern Railway’s Madurai Division
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Madurai Division of the Southern Railway on Tuesday, March 26, 2024, withdrew the practice of obtaining a declaration from employees reporting sick and seeking to avail of medical leave. 

In a letter, the Chief Medical Superintendent A. Priya Shaunthini said the system of obtaining a declaration from staff reporting sick was withdrawn with effect from March 26, 2024. The practice had been followed in Madurai division only to help in the smooth running of the organisation, she said.

As per the policy, employees approaching doctors at the Railway Hospital for treatment, had to sign an undertaking that they were not under orders of transfer/emergency duty/disciplinary action. Also, they had to admit in writing that they had not been drafted for refresher/organisational training programmes and would not leave the headquarters during the sick period.

The policy had not gone down well with trade unions. Both the Southern Railway Mazdoor Union and the All India Loco Running Staff Association had represented to the management that the practice was against the interests of the staff, and the safety of operations. A delegation of SRMU led by Madurai divisional secretary J. M. Rafi met senior health officials on Tuesday demanding that the policy of insisting on undertakings be withdrawn. 

A day after The Hindu published a report titled ‘Madurai Railway Hospital insists on declaration from staff seeking sick leave’ in these columns, the Madurai division issued a formal letter to the trade unions announcing the withdrawal of the procedure with immediate effect. 

Sources in the railways said some employees tended to report sick and took medical leave whenever they were drafted for refresher courses or posted on emergency duty. This often led to a shortage of manpower, particularly in the safety and running staff categories, which led to a crisis situation in sustaining train operations. 

The practice of obtaining written declarations from staff reporting sick that they would not leave headquarters while on medical leave or that they were not posted on emergency duty was in force in Health Units located in small railway establishments like ‘B’ category stations. 

“It is true that some employees try to evade work by reporting sick and availing of medical leave. But the doctors can easily assess the health condition of any employee and take a decision on the merits of the case. It is not fair to compel all those reporting sick to sign such declarations,” AILRSA central organising secretary V. Balachandran said. 

Referring to a recent incident, he said a Loco Pilot nominated for a refresher course fell ill and was compelled to give a false declaration that he had not been drafted for any training programme.  “He was diagnosed with jaundice and admitted to the hospital. Had he not signed the declaration, the doctor might not have commenced treatment,” Mr. Balachandran said. 

The Indian Railways is one of the largest employers in the country with over 12 lakh employees and runs its own hospitals for serving/retired personnel and their family members. 

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