The prevailing hiring policies, marked with rampant contractualisation, has pushed the fate of a section of medical workers, at a Centre-run hospital in New Delhi, into uncertainty and darkness, months after they were showered with flowered petals as an appreciation for being at the forefront of the country’s fight against the virus pandemic.
The Multi-tasking Staff (MTS) at the Lady Hardinge Medical College and associated hospitals have levelled ‘extortion’ charges against the coterie of middlemen including the hospital officials. According to them, the contract workers are being demanded a hefty sum of money in exchange of securing their jobs.
The Delhi University (DU) – affiliated medical college has two teaching hospitals, namely, Smt. Sucheta Kriplani Hospital and Kalawati Saran Child Hospital, which were converted to dedicated COVID-19 healthcare facilities.
The demand for cash has come in the wake of termination of the contract term of the private third-party contractor next month onwards. As many 200 workers, out of the total 275 contract staff at the dedicated COVID-19 facility, have succumbed to the pressure and accepted to pay as much as Rs. 80,000 fearing they would lose their jobs and with it the means to subsistence, NewsClick has learnt.
On Tuesday, July 28, anger against the hospital management rose among the remaining 75 workers, who when they refused to toe the line, were allegedly verbally communicated about their retrenchment.
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Kavitha Vinod, 35, one of those who claimed that they have now been told to leave the job, told NewsClick that the workers were threatened in the month of February as well, following which many used up their savings to meet the extortion demands. “I had paid Rs. 15,000. If failed to do so, we were told that we would be asked to leave. Again within five months, similar demands are being made. From where do I give them money now?,” she said.
Vinod is among the multi-tasking staff at the Lady Hardinge, employed since 2015, who was engaged in patient care duties and maintaining medical wards, including those with COVID-19 infected patients, which she termed as, “red zones”.
“All these days, we worked for more than eight hours a day, without holidays. We performed our duties, even in difficult times, hoping that no such illegal demands would be made in the future,” said the mother of a two-month old girl child.
Assisted by All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), the retrenched medical workers now plan to take the matter to the Delhi High Court. In a letter dated July 24 to the Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW), under whose supervision the two hospitals are run, the central trade union had referred to this as an “abuse of official position”.
Surya Prakash, state secretary, AICCTU Delhi, said that the MTS episode at Lady Hardinge only highlights the precarious work conditions contract workers are subjected to in the country.
“It has been a practice in almost all the sectors of terminating the term of the contractor and with it replace the workers employed through the previous one. This is even more so, in cases, when workers have been employed for jobs that are perennial in nature, for a longer period of time,” he said.
Challenging the legality of such retrenchments, Prakash referred to a 2015 order of Delhi High Court judgment, according to which, principal employers are restrained from replacing one contractual employee with another in such cases.
Multiple calls made to Sonu Kumar, deputy director (Administration), Lady Hardinge medical college, did not elicit any response. NewsClick also tried to approach secretary, MoHFW, through calls and email. This copy shall be updated as and when comments will be received.
A supervisor at the Jai Balaji Security Services, the third party contractor, under whom the 275 multi-tasking workers were employed since 2016, confirmed that some of the employees have been asked to leave as the contract term with the company is nearing its end.
“Even salaries of these workers for the month of May were paid in July, while that of June is still pending because the hospital management delays in sending us the attendance record,” the supervisor told NewsClick, while choosing not to comment anything on the allegations involving extortion.
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