Lucknow: An First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against at least 11 ambulance employees — driver and emergency medical technician under Epidemic and Diseases Act, 1897 and Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) by Uttar Pradesh police on Wednesday as a statewide indefinite strike by employees of two government ambulance services—102 (delivery of pregnant women) and 108 (emergency services) entered its fourth day across state. GVK EMRI (Emergency Management and Research Institute), which operates two primary emergency ambulance services has sacked about 550 employees, including the president of the UP Ambulance Workers Association, Hanuman Prasad Pandey and district office bearers following "negligence in duty".
The action by the company has triggered outrage among employees who have threatened to stop the few ambulance services plying on roads if demands are not met within three days. The complaint was filed by VSK Reddy, senior vice president GVK EMRI.
“The whole idea behind FIR is to create a fear psychosis to stop people from participating in protests. But FIR is not going to deter us. We will see how we can turn this into a positive and motivate ourselves for the cause,” said Hanuman Pandey who has been leading the protest in state capital Lucknow since Monday.
Amid the second wave of COVID-19 pandemic, the ambulance drivers worked tirelessly as frontline workers. Some workers were found overcharging patients, but in most instances, the drivers were seen working round the clock to offer their services to families of Covid patients and victims.
“So many of our colleagues got infected and a few among them died, but we never complained or said that we wouldn’t do our job. But the FIR is not something that we expected. I am not surprised though... All we know that the government has never been on our side. Whenever we have raised an issue or protest for our basic rights, authorities have replied with ‘lathis’ of the police,” Pandey stated, adding that how unfortunate it was that both Center and state government is spending crores on skill development while their skill and experience is being enfeebled.
Protesting drivers in Lucknow, Ghazipur, Ballia, Unnao, Barabanki, Mirzapur and several other districts in the state have continued with their indefinite strike.
Employees of the 102 and 108 ambulance services had started their protest across UP on Monday after the tender to operate 250 advanced life support system (ALS) ambulances was given to another company named Ziqitza Health Care. So far, GVK EMRI was operating advanced life support systems, 108 and 102 ambulance services in the state. But now the responsibility of the ALS ambulance service has been given to Ziqitza Health Care, and those working with ALS ambulances fear a large number of job losses as they will become redundant to the old company while the new company has started its recruitment drive and does not want to engage old employees.
Satyendra Yadav, Ballia district unit of the ALS Ambulance Karamchari Sangh whose name appeared in FIR, told Newsclick, that workers should be given assurance of job guarantee. “It's an irony that despite working for 10-12 years and providing rentless services, workers are being sacked. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, the government glorified us as frontline Covid warriors and now they are sacking us from jobs,” Yadav said.
Meanwhile, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath has said that despite a ban on holding strikes under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA), the employees stopped the operation of government ambulances without permission.
“If any patient dies because of negligence or laxity, the company, officers, or staff concerned will face the toughest of action following an FIR against them,” he said.
Ambulance service across Uttar Pradesh remained adversely affected due to the ongoing strike by the drivers and support staff. In Sitapur, a woman died due to non-availability of ambulance timely treatment.
Commenting over the decision to sack its employees, VSK Reddy, senior vice president GVK EMRI said, "All the demands of the ALS employees have been met. Still, under the influence of some people, the workers went on strike. About 570 employees who disrupted services have been sacked. If anyone tries to disrupt the services further, action will be taken against them also. The employees who will join till tomorrow will be given duty. Those who have been dismissed will not get duty."
However, the union said that the ALS employees were worried about the salary being offered by the new players Ziqitza Health Care. Against about Rs 13,000 at GVK EMRI, the new player is offering only Rs 10,000 if hired.
The union had brought this issue up with UP NHM, state health and labour departments, but it was not paid any heed. “We have written to UP NHM and requested the top officials to address our grievances but all went in vain," said another employee.
Meanwhile, additional chief secretary of health and family welfare Amit Mohan Prasad told reporters that dialogue between union leaders and government representatives and companies are underway and soon will come to a conclusion.