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18-hr shifts, ‘harassment’, late pay, pink slips — Tejas Express staff’s long list of woes

Tejas Express, hailed as India’s ‘first private train’, made its maiden run from Delhi to Lucknow after a big-ticket launch on 4 October.

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Lucknow: Delayed salaries, 18-hour shifts, random sackings — the Delhi-Lucknow Tejas Express finds itself caught in a swirl of allegations barely two months after its big-ticket launch.

The Tejas Express hit the tracks 4 October as India’s first private train

While the infrastructure of the train, coaches etc, are owned by the Indian Railways, services like catering and cleaning are handled by firms through the railways’ subsidiary company IRCTC under the public-private partnership (PPP) model.

With its uniformed staff, promise of shorter travel time than the Shatabdi, and compensation for delays, the train spurred much excitement among passengers. 

But the promise has allegedly not aged well for the crew members, some of whom told ThePrint that they were made to work even while sick. Blisters on the feet after a gruelling shift, said one, didn’t get him sick leave and he was fired instead. 

Another claimed that passengers were being served substandard food and unfiltered water. 

From staff to food and water, all services aboard the Tejas Express are handled by Brandavan Food Products, a controversial Delhi-based company that stoked a row this month with a job advertisement that included caste as a selection criterion.

The company has denied all allegations outright. 

Asked about the sackings, both Brandavan and IRCTC claimed they were an operational requirement. The former claimed it was temporary and the staff would be hired back when a new Tejas Express train is launched.

Meanwhile, the sacked staffers find themselves at sea, even as the ones still working describe a hostile work environment, which is made worse for women employees by misbehaving passengers. Tweets to the railway minister and the IRCTC have elicited no response.

Also Read: Why Tejas is ‘1st private train’ — Railways owns it, outside vendors provide food & clean it

No relief, say crew members

Attendants for the Tejas Express were hired on contract as ‘coach crew’ by Brandavan Food Products.

Around 30 continue to serve on the Tejas Express, while as many as 20 have been fired, according to current and former train staff. The firings, they said, were abrupt and without any notice. Salary dues, the staff alleged, were released weeks later.

Avantika Singh, who joined the Tejas Express as a manager with its maiden run, said most members of her team of 12 were dismissed after Diwali. When she enquired about their dismissal, she added, the management cited poor performance as the reason. 

“Granted, most of these crew members were still in the probation period… but the offer letter issued by Brandavan Food Products clearly mentioned a notice period of one month,” she added.

Several staff members talked about being forced to work 17-18-hour shifts without breaks.

Prachi Patel, another of the fired crew members, said she was not informed about the long working hours when she joined. Once on duty, however, her shift would start at 5 am and she would only return home after 10 pm, she added. 

When she complained, the management said work pressure was only high because the train was just starting out. Once it was established, she was allegedly told, the pressure would recede.

One day, Prachi said, exhaustion caused her to faint while on duty. “I was admitted to a private medical facility at Kanpur. When I regained consciousness, instead of being offered a period of rest, I was immediately called back for duty,” she added. “I felt shocked and betrayed.” 

Another former attendant Vishal Kumar described a similar ordeal. When he developed blisters on his feet while on shift one day, Kumar said, he approached the senior management to inform them. “I was told not to come to work from the next day,” he added.

Staff members who still have their jobs said the sackings had driven up the work pressure. According to them, the management had threatened to fire the staff who raised the issue with them, and forced them into silence. 

Several staff members alleged that they were fined by managers, also hired by Brandavan Food Products, for petty issues like improper makeup.

And the net of harassment extended beyond the management, the crew said. Modeled on airline cabin crew, the female staff serving on the Tejas Express have also been facing harassment and lewd comments from passengers, as reported in the media.

In the wake of these reports, the IRCTC said its officials will collect feedback from staff about passenger behaviour and devise a mechanism to deal with mischief-makers. A WhatsApp group was reportedly created for complaints but crew members allege no action has been forthcoming from the railway authorities.

The crew also faced harassment from the senior attendants hired from other trains for the training of fresh hires, said Namrata Mishra, yet another sacked crew member. 

On several occasions, she added, these attendants got inebriated and indulged in “mischievous behaviour” with women. When they protested against the behaviour, Namrata said, the matter was brushed under the carpet with assurances that “some action is being taken”. 

Former cabin crew member Vaishnavi Singh said she had approached IRCTC’s chief regional manager Ashwini Srivastava with complaints about the constant harassment and long duty hours, and was assured that the matter would be resolved soon. 

She also filed a complaint with some employees of Brandavan Food Products who served on the train, but there was no impact, she added. Instead, Singh said, she was removed from the job by Brandavan Food Products. 

A crew member claimed that Brandavan Food Products was also “compromising” on the quality of food and water being served to passengers. Quite often, the crew member said, passengers are “handed out common water in a bottle instead of filtered, mineral water”.

“All this is being done in the presence of management,” the member added.

Tejas Express staff
(From left) Avantika, Prachi, Manpreet, Vishal Singh, Namrata, five Tejas crew members who claim to have been fired | Prashant Srivastava

Company denies all allegations

Speaking to ThePrint, Brandavan Food Products’ human resources representative Pradeep Singh denied all allegations. “No one has been removed from their job. As soon as another Tejas train becomes operational or bogeys are added to the existing one, we will call these people back.” 

As for complaints of misbehaviour, he added, “we haven’t heard any”. “If any complaints reach us, the management will be informed and they will get it investigated,” he said.

Pradeep Singh had issued a blanket denial when approached with the entire list of grievances, including about the food and water quality. However, ThePrint has also texted him for a response that particularly addresses the allegation of questionable food and water quality. Calls to his number went unanswered after the initial interview.

IRCTC chief regional manager Ashwini Srivastava said he had no idea why the crew members were removed from duty and asked this reporter to approach the company’s public relations officer Siddharth Singh. 

Singh said the decision to remove the crew members and attendants was taken by Brandavan Food Products and not the IRCTC. 

“As far as I know, the firm had initially hired too many crew members and attendants,” he added. “After Diwali, some coaches were removed from the Tejas Express. It was probably because of this that staff were fired.” 

Also Read: Tejas Express has style of airline but first passengers compare it to Shatabdi speed, price

IRCTC says report biased

IRCTC’s public relations officer Siddharth Singh responded to ThePrint’s report, calling it “misleading and biased”. Singh has raised three objections in a letter dated 28 November:

  1. The report states that cabin crew and attendants are harassed. This has been quoted only with the intention to sensationalise the news. No incidents of harassment or sexual harassment, either by the passengers or the staff, have been reported or witnessed. An internal WhatsApp group, which has a lady officer of IRCTC as a member, was formed to monitor such cases. Female crew were advised to report issues relating to harassment on this group. However, no such reports were received.
  1. The report also states that the crew was made to work for 18 hours continuously. But, besides duty during travel time, no additional work is expected from the crew and adequate rest is provided.
  1. The report also states that salary is not paid on time and staff removed without notice. It has been enquired and ascertained from the contractor that he had shortlisted 40 female training candidates; 25 of them were found suitable for the job. Similarly, after assessment, 10 male stewards were found suitable. The remaining staff was returned to their institutes for re-training. This staff is sufficient to cater to the requirement of 10 coaches.

ThePrint responds

Our reporter, Prashant Srivastava, spoke to all parties concerned before filing the report. It quotes former staff members of Tejas Express, Brandavan Food Products HR manager Pradeep Singh, IRCTC chief regional manager Ashwini Shrivastava and PRO Siddharth Singh. All the complainants are on video, and ThePrint has all relevant papers to substantiate the report.

Our response to your concerns:

  1. ThePrint report quotes staff members complaining about harassment and mentions the setting up of a WhatsApp group by IRCTC to deal with it and how ineffective it has been.
  1. Several staff members complained about being forced to work 17-18-hour shifts without any breaks. ThePrint has many of these staff members on record, both in print and on video.
  1. On the issue of sacking, ThePrint has quoted responses from both employees who were sacked and Brandavan Food Products as well as IRCTC.

ThePrint stands by the report.

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  1. Passengers too have common sense how to behave with staff. They are for their service and not to be treated as slaves or stewards. IRCTC has to stand by staff side and before taking any harsh decisions on their staff please ascertain the genuineness and severity of the allegations (if any). May be they are hired but to be given treatment at par with regular employees, this will boost up their confidence levels and can derive maximum outcome from them….

  2. Not understanding actually the facts but as it seems since dis arrangement is going to set an example proper governance n check is very much required.
    Staff is an asset.whether it’s govt or private company has to work out on the issues.Inhuman actions cannot give good quality staff n ownership for better service.
    Food and water is another very important factor whose negligence needs actions against n strict regulations required.
    I believe investigation and actions on mentioned issues to be taken on priority.

    Every management can be successfully handled if not corrupted.

    Hope all gets sorted before it becomes a debate.NAYA MUDDA

  3. Government agencies surveillance in ensuring compliance of laws by private sector managements is very poor in our country. Without improving their efficacy and effectiveness, We are in a hurry to privatise everything. This causes hardships to common man.

  4. Why not training and planning done in advance?People must be thrown out of the trains if misbehaved as misbehaving has become norm nowadays.

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