Lucknow: Employees of GVK EMRI, the Hyderabad-based company that runs the ‘108’ and ‘102’ ambulance services in Uttar Pradesh, staged protests in Varanasi on Monday against termination notices and to demand their pending salaries.
Uttar Pradesh’s association of ambulance staff held the demonstration in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's constituency of Varanasi on June 29, and announced that they would not work until the authorities disburse their salaries in full and pay their wages on time. The ambulance workers alleged that they have been paid half their salary in the year gone by. And despite being on the front-lines in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, they alleged that they had not even been given any safety gear such as masks or gloves.
According to an employee, many ambulance workers quit their job during the lockdown as neither the state government, nor the private firms they were working for, had taken cognisance of their demands.
The workers wrote a letter to their employer – GVK EMRI – which said that no ambulance operator will work if their demands are not met. The state government has told them that GVK is responsible for their salaries, so the issue must be negotiated with the firm.
Speaking to NewsClick about their ordeal, Deepak Singh, an ambulance driver said: “We have not received our full payment since October 25, 2019. We had an agreement with the Labour Commissioner that we will be given Rs 17,000 per month after eight hours of work, but it was merely lip service by the authority. There is no fixed salary for an ambulance driver as some of our colleagues get Rs 5,000, some receive Rs 8,000 while many of received Rs 3,500, which is shocking," Singh said, adding that he received his salary for a six-month period last week, but with a deduction of Rs 2,000.
Singh was not sure of why the arbitrary pay cuts were carried out. “There was an arbitrary salary cut and as many as 1,600 workers were shown the exit door by the company on Saturday without any prior notice," he alleged.
Hanuman Pandey, President of the Ambulance Workers’ Association said the state government should ensure that the employees get an annual increment since it was a government project implemented by the private firm. "They are offering emergency services to the needy even during COVID-19, and they deserve a full salary. How can people survive on half of their salary with prices going up every now and then?" he asked.
Meanwhile, employees of the '102' and '108' ambulance services alleged that the company operating the service is duping the Uttar Pradesh government by raising fake bills.
"On paper, there are around 19,221 ambulance workers in Uttar Pradesh; in reality, there are hardly 16,000. Counterfeit bills are being raised in the name of the remaining 3,000 people. We urge the government to order a CBI probe into it," the ambulance union leader alleged, adding that if their demands were not met, they would bring ambulance services to a halt across the state from Wednesday.
NewsClick spoke to Sunil Yadav, a spokesperson for GVK-EMRI, the company that runs the ambulance services. He said: "We prepared a list of 1,600 employees who have not been coming to work without informing the company or are missing from work for a long time. They have not been shown the exit door yet," Yadav said.
When asked to comment about the reason behind the delay in salaries, Yadav refused to comment, saying there was neither a fund crunch nor salary cuts.
Meanwhile, ‘102’ emergency services have been stopped in all 72 districts including Gorakhpur, Hardoi, Kanpur and Meerut after a meeting with the Labour Commission failed on Monday afternoon.
Shalil Awasthi, an emergency medical technician in Hardoi, told NewsClick: “Last September, we hit the road for three days across Uttar Pradesh for the same cause. Later, an agreement was signed between the workers and the GVK EMRI management in the presence of V.K. Rai, the then Labour Commissioner, that we will be paid a fixed amount of Rs 17,200 for eight hours of work, and would also be paid for overtime. The company is not ready to comply with the agreement," he said.
Ambulance drivers, Advance Lab Support (ALS) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) staff for the '102' and '108' emergency services began an indefinite hunger strike in front of ‘108’ head office near Aashiyana Power House in Lucknow on June 26.