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COVID-19: Ambulance Workers’ Association on Strike in UP, Demand Protective Gear

The drivers demanded that all the 19,221 workers be provided with safety equipment, health insurance worth Rs 50 lakh and food during their duty hours.
COVID-19: Ambulance Workers’ Association

Image use for Representational only. image Courtesy: NDTV

Lucknow: The health services in Uttar Pradesh came to a halt on Tuesday when all the ambulance workers in the state went on an indefinite strike after their demands were not met.

The Ambulance Workers’ Association has been demanding safety equipment in order to protect themselves from the coronavirus epidemic. The drivers who have been employed by Hyderabad-based PPP firm GVK EMRI have demanded that all the 19,221 workers be provided with safety equipment, health insurance worth Rs 50 lakh and food during their duty hours.

Brijesh Singh, an ambulance driver based in Lucknow-Barabanki, who returned to his home following the association’s strike, said that despite working for a sector which is responsible for saving lives, the government has refused to consider them to be ‘government employees’.

“We know that we are contractual workers and we cannot get perks like those in government jobs. But in a condition like this when we are driving our ambulances with coronavirus patients, we can at least be provided with safety equipment to safeguard us because we also have families and they are also at the risk of contracting this virus,” Brijesh said.

He also claimed that the ambulance drivers in Uttar Pradesh have been operating the ambulances for the past two months without any payment.

“We have not been paid for two months and also, the company has not paid their provident fund contribution for the last seven months. These are the other problems we have not spoken about and have only demanded protective gear for us because we also understand that this is a crucial time for our country and we are the footsoldiers. The government should understand our problems and intervene in the matter,” he said.

Meanwhile, UP Additional Chief Secretary Awnish Awasthi on Tuesday afternoon--after the intervention of CM Yogi Adityanath who himself got to know about this issue through television reports--instructed officials to look into the matter and solve it on a priority basis. However, it was not resolved till late evening on Tuesday as the dialogue between the GVK EMRI and ambulance workers did not yield any results.

Hanuman Pandey, the president of the Ambulance Workers’ Association said that all the 4,500 ambulances operating across 75 districts of Uttar Pradesh have been stopped because their demands were not met.

Pandey said that the government had asked the workers to solve the issue by communicating with the company and declined to intervene in this matter.

“Drivers have been facing a lot of problems. Due to the lack of safety gear, people in the hospitals do not let them enter the premises and many a times, they have also been refused oxygen when they went to fill their emergency cylinders which are kept in the ambulances. Only 15 masks were provided to the ambulance drivers and they were the regular operation theatre [surgical] masks which are not at all effective in keeping this coronavirus at bay,” he claimed.

The calls and messages to the top officials of the ambulance operating company went unanswered, but later, Hanuman Pandey informed NewsClick that salary was credited to the savings accounts of some of the ambulance drivers.

It may also be mentioned that last week, the junior resident doctors at the King George Medical University (KGMU) in Lucknow had written a letter asking the residents to contribute a day’s stipend in order to buy protective equipment. But later, the university administration assured them that they do not need to contribute and safety gear will be provided to them.

There has been a spike in the cases of coronavirus in Uttar Pradesh and the present count stands at 106 with 16 people having recovered fully and discharged. Four FIRs under sections 188, 269 and 270 of the IPC have been filed under people for intentionally hiding their travel history from the administration.

Also read: Homeless and ‘Invisible’: Street Dwellers Overlooked by the State

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