Alappuzha: For over five decades, the Kerala State Water Transport Department (SWTD) has been operating a network of water transportation services across the state, with Alappuzha being the hub. The commuters were familiar with the wooden boats and the shabbily dressed staff. And they were in for a great surprise to see some of the operating staff in a completely new avatar – ironed khaki uniform bearing name plates, shoulder flaps, stars, brown shoes, and brown belts.
Facing tough competition from the widening road network and water metro services in Kochi, the SWTD has embarked on an image makeover in tune with the changing times. However, it was no easy task for the SWTD management to take into confidence all the staff for the new look.
“Earlier, there were different uniforms for different categories of staff. And the demand for uniformity in the dress code came from the various employee organizations, saying there shouldn’t be any discrimination. We too felt the same as a team effort is required for the efficient operation of the services. But then we wanted to give it a professional touch in tune with the changing times,” Shaji V Nair, SWTD Director, told Onmanorama.
Earlier, the Boat Srank, Boat Master, and Driver had a simple khaki uniform, while the Laskar staff had to wear blue-coloured pants and shorts. Now all of them have to wear khaki uniforms, which include nameplates, brown shoes, and brown belts. Additionally, shoulder flaps and stars have to be worn based on the position.
“For instance, the Boat Master is officially the custodian of an SWTD boat in operation. Hence, he should have a double lining, flaps on both shoulders and one star. The Boat Srank and Boat Driver have kaki uniforms, plus one star and one lining. The Laskar has only the star,” a senior management official said.
The new uniform of the employees in the ‘Checking Staff’ and ‘Station Master’ closely resembles the Navy uniform – white shirt, nameplate, brown shoes, and brown belt. However, the management is facing resistance from a section of the staff, especially those with several years of experience, against the “professional look”. They just want a uniform khaki dress and nothing additional.
“First, we’re suggesting a different colour. But they (the staff) wanted the kaki colour itself. We agreed to that. Then they don’t want to wear shoes, citing that the same may put them in hardships as they operate in water. But then the Fire Force officials wear shoes in such conditions. It’s just the mentality. The younger lot has agreed to the new uniform code,” the official added.
While the new dress code has been in effect since two months back, the same is adhered to by the staff in a gradual phase. The management too is willing to give them time for “adaptation”.
“Just like the old wooden boats are slowly making the way for modern steel/fibre boats, we have to change in appearance too to bring in professionalism,” he pointed out. However, the employees cite that the new dress code is costing them money from their own pockets. “Our uniform allowance is just Rs 2100 per annum. One set of the new uniform costs a minimum of Rs 2500. Two sets are the bare minimum and that cost us Rs 5000,” an employee said on the condition of anonymity.
However, the management responded that a proposal for hiking the uniform allowance will be sent to the government at the end of this financial year as part of the implementation of the new ‘uniform’ code. Another complaint from the section of employees is that they now resemble police officers and Navy officers. “We’ve so far received no objection from any other forces like the Police or Fire Force,” the senior official said.