The emergency ambulance drivers in Uttar Pradesh have launched a strike in the wake of a change in the company that operates the advanced life support system ambulances in the state whose employment conditions, they claim, are unjust. The general ambulance drivers have also joined in and this has created fresh troubles for the healthcare system in the election-bound state. Details here.
Two main ambulance services of the Uttar Pradesh government have come to a grinding halt since July 25-26 midnight, as the ambulance drivers across the state have gone on an indefinite strike. The advanced life support system (ALS) ambulance drivers have launched a protest against the changes in their employment conditions and payment following the handover of the ambulance service tender to a different company.
Both the 102 (maternity facility ambulance) and 108 (emergency ambulance) government-operated ambulance services are affected in the state.
The protestors have the support of the non-ALS ambulance service workers as well and they have launched a strike in solidarity.
The protesting drivers’ association named Jeevandayni Swasthya Vibhag has raised a slew of demands that include assurance of continued service after the company named Ziqitza Healthcare Limited (ZHL) takes over the contract.
The demand also includes payment of the drivers at par with the ad hoc drivers.
Miffed by the proposed change of employment agreement and reduction of salary, 38-year old Akhilesh Kumar , Sitapur district head of the protesting association told Gaon Connection, “Earlier, when I was working under GVK Ambulance Service Pvt. Ltd, I was being paid Rs 12,734 but the new company will give a remuneration of Rs 10,700 and the working hours will be 12 hours. We demand the government to either keep the tender with the same old company or hire us under the National Health Mission”.
Also, as per the protesting ambulance drivers, the Ziqitza Healthcare Limited has demanded a payment of Rs 20,000 per driver for training them for services.
Perplexed by the requirement to pay for the training, Kumar further stated that the drivers have been doing their jobs for almost eight years now and paying Rs 20,000 for the training is not justified.
The 102 and 108 ambulance service which can be availed by dialing the two emergency numbers is run by the government but it’s management is taken care of by the private companies on a contractual basis. The service contract of GVK had come to an end and presently the Ziqitza Healthcare Limited has been selected to run the ALS ambulances.
The new company, Ziqitza Healthcare Limited, is supposed to take over the tender for the ALS ambulance service which is required to transport patients on a life-support system. There are 250 advanced life support (ALS) ambulances in the state.
This has had a paralysing effect on the healthcare infrastructure in the state and patients, especially from the rural areas, are expected to face difficulty in getting transported to avail better healthcare services which are usually available in the far-off cities.
Meanwhile, when the tender was awarded to the new company, the previous company who operated the ambulances —GVK had assured in June that the workers needed to be worried about the new company.
“The new firm has got a tender to run ALS ambulances but none of our staff should be worried as we shall follow services rules and keep you informed,” it was quoted as saying.
Apart from the assurance of employment and reverting the training clause, the protesting drivers demand that the next of kin of ambulance staff members who lost their lives due to COVID19 must be paid an ex gratia of Rs 5,000,000.
The protestors also demand the doing away of the tender system of ambulance services and state that they should be hired with fixed minimum wages under the National Health Mission.
They also demand their salaries to be fixed at around Rs 23,000 per month and an inflation allowance should be provided once a year.
Gaon Connection approached the state’s Additional Health Secretary Amit Mohan Prasad to know about the government’s response to the crisis.
“The negotiations are underway with the protestors and the MD NHM (Mission Director, National Health Mission) is responding to the issue,” Prasad told Gaon Connection.
Despite several attempts, Aparna U, Mission Director of the National Health Mission in Uttar Pradesh could not be contacted on her official contact number. This report shall be updated as and when the response is received.
Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of Mirzapur district told Gaon Connection that the Essential Services Management Act (ESMA) has been invoked against the protesting workers. “The government has imposed ESMA on the protestors, they cannot impede emergency services like this. There are a total of 65 ambulances in the district but only three of them are functional as of now,” PD Gupta, CMO, Mirzapur said.
The ESMA is an act that any government can invoke in their respective states to prohibit striking employees from refusing to work on certain essential services which are crucial for maintaining normalcy.
Meanwhile, the drivers’ association has warned of a sit-in demonstration if its demands are not met at the earliest.
Talking to Gaon Connection about the ordeal of the ambulance workers, Mirzapur-based Rajiv Ranjan Pandey, the district head of the ambulance association stated that virtually 1,200 staffers of the ALS ambulances have been removed from their jobs.
“This always happens whenever there is a change in the company who gets the contract tender to run the ambulances. But things are awfully difficult this time. We risked our lives when COVID19 was at its peak. And this is the reward we are getting for the sacrifices we made,” said Pandey in a voice clearly marked by a perceptible agitation.
With inputs from Mohit Shukla (Sitapur), Sumit Yadav (Unnao), Brijendra Dubey (Mirzapur) and Virendra Singh (Barabanki).
Written by Pratyaksh Srivastava