Indian Railways steams ahead with first staff incentive

South Central Railway (SCR), a division of state-owned Indian Railways, the country’s largest employer, sent 100 non-gazetted employees, on their first-ever overseas incentive travel trip to Singapore and Malaysia for six days.

Indian Railways’ first ever corporate incentive travel initiative was not for its senior officers, but for employees from lower cadres and those nearing retirement such as the gangmen, trackmen, engine-drivers, signalmen and other employees – all blue-collar workers. Deliberately, the Group C and D category employees were given the preference in an unprecedented initiative.

Secunderabad-based SCR took the initiative and the lead in “optimising welfare activities for its non-gazetted workforce, by organising the first-of-its-kind ‘Employees Overseas Camp’ on Indian Railways”, said M. Umashankar Kumar, SCR Chief Public Relations officer. While some expenditure of the tour was borne by the employees themselves, the major component – such as airfare and accommodation – was funded from the Staff Benefit Fund (SBF). Kumar added that the allocation of number of slots for each division, workshop and headquarters, was given on the basis of their sanctioned strength.

The SBF funds are allocated by the Railway Board for various welfare activities of non-gazetted employees working in the national transporter (Indian Railways). They are usually used for scholarships for lower grade employees, to benefit girl children, camps for children and other such socially relevant and CSR causes.

The itinerary included sightseeing options that included Universal Studios, Sentosa and  a night safari in Singapore and the Kuala Lumpur City Tour, Petronas Towers, Batu Caves and Genting Highlands in Malaysia. A short haul flight, between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur for the aged, and a relatively relaxed itinerary, delivered interesting once-in-a-lifetime memories and an opportunity for story-telling to their grandchildren.

The railway employees were drawn from across Indian cities and towns on the Indian Railway network but primarily senior employees, many approaching retirement. The plan was to reward them with an otherwise unachievable experience to motivate them, appreciate their services and contribution as well as set an example for the numerous current employees of the railway behemoth, which is India’s largest employer of its workforce.

The participants flew from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai to Singapore. Upon arrival they were lodged at several guest houses in the city with three-star facilities. Over three days, the group was escorted by Indian language-speaking tour guides in coaches to the major attractions such as the Singapore Zoo, Jurong Bird Park, Sentosa Island, attractions such as the Night Safari and Universal Studios. A tour of the old Parliament house, site of the Japanese surrender during World War II, as well as the Commercial Business District, the Little India area of Serangoon Road, as well as Orchard Road was extremely well received by the travellers. A visit to the Tanjong Pagar railway station which was operational from 1932 to 2011 and to the Singapore Railways Museum where some old railway engines are exhibited, was overwhelming.

On the fourth day, the group were transferred by train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur while a few senior employees were flown in deference to their age. In Kuala Lumpur they were accommodated at comfortable guest houses. The city tour in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, included visits to the Petronas Towers, KLCC, Mid-Valley Mall and the Bukit Bintang area, rounded off by meals in an Indian restaurant. A visit to the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, the erstwhile home of the Federated Malay States Railways that ran passenger trains with steam-powered engines to Singapore and back, was a treasured experience.

The next day they were transported by coach to the Batu Caves and regaled with the history and topography of various landmarks on the way. On the final day the guests were driven to Genting Highlands for a full day of experiential fun. At the end of the six-day trip, the participants flew back to their respective cities of origin in India.

The SCR’s incentive travel programme overwhelmingly enthused the employee group who came back happy and recharged. One of the best examples of incentive travel in recent times, leading to high motivation and morale at its best. Kumar confirmed that the objective of the unique incentive travel plan was successful as the feel-good factor of the 100 participants permeated to the other employees in the large Indian Railway workforce who are now motivated and are aspiring for a similar experience. The crucial benefit of this unique incentive exercise was that it has motivated and enthused the non-executive category of railwaymen whose aspirations have found new wings.