Islamabad - The mere success railway porters - also dubbed as coolies - achieved in scored of decades is the change in their uniform colour; while their social status along with their financial constraints has remained unchanged.

Mohi-ud-din, an eighty-year-old porter has spent 15 years of his life only on the railway station in Rawalpindi, one of the oldest stations of the country built during the colonial era.

The old man whose eyesight has also become very weak daily comes to railway station to carry the luggage of people. His exercise is comprised of eight hours daily, which makes him earn the amount on which he barely makes both ends meet.

“I am collie # 72, please help us,” the old porter demanded in a trembling voice.

The government recently introduced some measures to give some relief to this working class on railway stations. According to fresh rules, the porters would get Rs 50 for lifting the weight of up to 40-kg for every round, while small and big trolleys are also provided to them to shift the luggage.

However, they have to give 30 percent of their income daily to the contractor and Rs 600 monthly fee of the number allotted to them.

Another porter Ayub, whose right arm got fractured a few days ago when he was shifting some luggage, told The Nation that porter’s earnings and savings could be estimated by his simple story. “I have been working here as a porter for the last 30 years and I still live in an old adobe.”

In the current system, management of porters is outsourced to the contractors who take 30 percent of every porter’s daily wages. Around 150 to 200 porters are working on the Rawalpindi Railway Station.

Along with replacing the signature uniform of porters from red to the green shalwar kameez, the government has also allowed 10 days annual leave without any deduction in their salaries. But porters describe it as a drop of water in the sea. According to them, they have no basic facilities including medical and residential allowances. If any porter gets injured during work, he has to manage his finances by his own.

Describing the troubles of his community, porter Shabir Gujjar revealed that the railway authorities take their services ‘free of cost.’

“Railway department doesn’t pay us a single rupee for shifting the luggage of their senior officers or railway machinery,” he said.

He also stated that the new uniform costs porters Rs 1500, while the previous was being tailored at Rs 800; so porters have to pay the price of new uniform.

For passengers travelling through train, these porters are like a helping hand, and families, elders, women and youth for whom it is difficult to manage their luggage seek porters’ support.

“I think porters’ charges are very nominal. I shifted my luggage from platform number 2 to outside the station and gave Rs 100 for this service,” said a passenger.

However, according to the porters, passengers consider them the part of the railway system, but in reality they are not because they have no employment rights.

Porter Muhammad Javed, who belongs to Faisalabad city and works here, expressed disappointment regarding facilities and future of the porters.

He said, every government plays gimmickry with the porters and exploits them to get political favours, but in real means no one cares for coolies.  “We are not given any compensation while travelling by train, even we have to pay for using railway washrooms,” said Javed.

The government has taken steps to upgrade the decaying system of railways. It brought reforms in the infrastructure and imported new machinery to restore the confidence of passenger in the railway. But, in this entire reformed agenda, this most vulnerable section associated with the department seems on less priority.

In porters’ point of view, the government should regularise them on permanent service structure if it wants to change their financial condition. “This contractual system is destroying us, we bring nothing to our homes in the evening,” said Javed. According to the porters, they mean nothing for the government, whether they live or die.

“Yes, we are working in poor conditions with no future, but still we are thankful to God that the government has allowed us to work,” said Shabir.

—The writer is a freelance contributor.