Sailesh Vaghela, during his shift at Goenka Hospital before the strike.
The cleaning staff of SMS hospital, a trust-run facility in Ahmedabad, which has been turned into a COVID-19-hospital by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, has been on strike since June 29. About 80 class four workers decided to go on strike after multiple requests from them to fulfil basic amenities were not met.
“Since the hospital has been turned into COVID-19 hospital, we have been working a 12-hour shift instead of our usual eight-hour shifts, but our salary was not increased; we continue to be paid Rs 250 a day. Since March, we have spoken to the authorities on multiple occasions and even submitted our demands in writing as asked by the authorities, but in vain. They should at least pay us for the extra hours put in by us over the past four months,” said Bipinbhai Parmar, a worker of SMS hospital, who has been on strike.
“My wife also works here. Even with both of us at work we hardly earn enough to sustain our family,” added Bipinbhai.
The workers have been demanding an adequate salary and amenities like separate drinking water facilities. They have also asked for more support from the hospital when a worker is in quarantine after having worked for seven days.
“In a shift of 12 hours, the hospital provides us with only one meal. There is no separate drinking water facility for us. Bottled drinking water is provided to the doctors but not us. Once one of the workers took a bottle and the hospital authorities snapped at us. We drink from the water dispenser that is meant for patients,” said Dharmistha, who has been working at SMS hospital for five years.
“Working in PPE suits for such long hours is very uncomfortable. One day I felt so hot that I fainted while on duty. I am not the only one, many workers especially women, have fainted while working in PPE suits,” added the 33-year-old, whose family of four depends on her income.
According to reports, SMS hospital authorities have not initiated any talks with the workers since they have been on strike.
“The hospital authorities asked them to resume work, but the workers have decided that if their demands are not met, they will continue to strike,” said Jagdish Chavda, a Dalit rights activist who is leading the workers.
“The hospital had five cleaning workers on contract. After their permanent staff went on strike, they hired fifteen workers to replace them. Now, the work load of about 80 workers is being handled by 20 contractual workers,” added Chavda.
In another private hospital in Gandhinagar, the cleaning staff has been on strike for the past one week with salaries not been paid since April.
“My salary is Rs 9,300 a month. In April, Goenka Hospital authorities paid me Rs 4,000 and that was the last salary I received,” said Sailesh Vaghela, who has been a member of the cleaning staff in Goenka Hospital for more than four years.
“Twenty-two cleaning workers have not received any payment since April, while some were paid half their salary in the month. We have been working without salary for two months. We tried talking to both our contractor and the hospital authorities but they have been passing the blame to each other,” Vaghela told NewsClick.
The management of Goenka Hospital has refused to take back the 22 members of cleaning staff who had gone on strike, and have also refused to initiate talks with them, claimed the workers.
“The contractor told us that the hospital has not sent our salaries yet. The hospital authorities kept stalling us as long we continued to work. Now that we have decided to go on strike, hospital authorities have told us that they will not take us back. We do not know whom to reach for help,” said Vaghela.
“Except us, the rest of the hospital staff has been getting their salary. Why the differential treatment, are we not Corona warriors?” he asked.