21 NOV 2023

The Indian metro sector is expanding dramatically, and this is being met with a new wave of worker organising across the country.

Metro is becoming an increasingly important mode of transport worldwide, as local and national governments attempt to drive modal shift away from private vehicles and onto public transport. Such a shift has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution in urban areas, as well as delivering social and economic benefits from lower congestion.

However, these positive environmental policies are too often pursued without regard for labour conditions. New and expanded metro systems will be ultimately unsustainable unless they are characterised by decent work. The new generation of metro workers must benefit from fair pay and working conditions if the sector is to thrive over the coming decades.

This is why the ITF is supporting efforts by workers in metro systems across India to organise, bargain and advocate for their interests. With funding from the Finnish development agency SASK, the ITF connecting grassroots metro unions together and helping them build their capacity to influence employers and government alike.

October 2023 saw the launch of the new All-India Metro Rail Employees Federation (AIMREF), initially bringing together unions in the cities of Delhi, Kolkata and Jaipur and from across the state of Uttar Pradesh. AIMREF has also received official recognition as a union from the Indian labour ministry and has been accepted as the ITF’s newest affiliate in the country.

Saurav Jyoti Gogoi, the ITF’s metro sector organiser in India, said: “It is vital that metro workers themselves seize the initiative in determining the future of their sector, rather than leaving it to employers and governments to decide. That includes breaking down the artificial divide between employees and contract workers. Everyone who works in a metro system should enjoy strong labour standards and union representation.”

These efforts are being guided by the experience of the All-India Railwaymen’s Federation (AIRF), which will celebrate its centenary year in 2024. Shiva Gopa Mishra, AIRF general secretary, said: “We can use our 100-year history in Indian Railways to inform the current struggle of metro workers. Before too long the metro workforce in India will be larger than that of the railways, and we must be ready for this transition.”

As well as organising across the divisions of employment status to include both formal and informal workers, AIMREF is confronting other divisions within the metro sector and the wider Indian economy. Women’s participation in the metro workforce must be increased, along with equal opportunities for people from minority religions and Scheduled Castes and Tribes.

As the efforts of these metro workers gather momentum, we hope that the membership of AIMREF will expand to unions from other cities across central and southern India.