New Delhi: As India’s healthcare system grapples with the enormous challenge of COVID-19, its frontline workers are crumbling under the system of contractualisation. At New Delhi-based Lady Hardinge Medical College as COVID facility, healthcare workers faced the threat of being laid off with the change of their contractor.
The Multi-tasking Staff (MTS) at Lady Hardinge Medical College and associated hospitals have even levelled ‘extortion’ charges against some hospital officials, alleging that they are being demanded a hefty sum in exchange for securing their jobs.
Following the termination of over 70 staff previously and no payment of salaries, over 200 workers of the medical facility filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court as a last-ditch attempt to save their livelihoods. The workers urged the court to issue directions to the Centre, so that Lady Harding Hospital and Jai Balaji--the contractor -- can be directed to not terminate the services of these workers. With a new contractor set to come in from August, 208 MTS workers had been put on a list and asked to stop coming for work July 31 onward.
Speaking to NewsClick, Surya Prakash, state secretary, AICCTU Delhi, and a lawyer said, “The High Court has given a positive order in the case. The bench has stated that an inquiry should be launched to look into the lay-offs by the hospital. Until then, the workers are to continue doing their jobs.”
The verdict is being seen as an outcome of several protests led by the workers, aided by the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU). The workers also staged a protest outside the hospital on Thursday, after which many of them were not allowed to resume their evening shifts. While the verdict is a baby step towards securing labour rights, the crisis of contractualisation continues ro plagues the healthcare system.
The Delhi-based hospital, like many others, changes contractors every six months leaving the workers with no option but to leave their jobs or pay to retain themselves. NewsClick had previously reported how the workers were alleged “extortion” and were asked to pay up to Rs. 80,000 to stay employed. Reportedly, 200 out of the total 275 employees had even agreed to pay the amount to stay employed.
Earlier, 70 staff members alleged they were illegally terminated without any notice by the contractor. In addition to the threat of being laid off, some staff members said they hadn't been paid their salary for the past four months.
“I got infected with COVID while taking care of patients here. Not just me but my entire family was infected. When I returned to work, I was told that I had been fired. This is how I was paid for my services.” said Pramod, a multi tasking staff at the hospital.
Speaking to NewsClick, Abhishek from AICCTU said: “Despite making tall claims and praising frontline workers, the Central government has done nothing to protect those who put their lives on the line every single day. The hollowness of the claims of the government becomes more evident as Lady Hardinge is directly under the Central government.
Contractualisation of labour has created deep-seated insecurity in the workforce. “The present batch of workers have exposed themselves to every possible danger by serving in the COVID facility and now they are being asked to leave or pay a hefty sum to save their livelihood. This is a dangerous precedent the hospital is aiming to set. Moreover, value should be given to this batch of workers for having trained themselves in caregiving during the pandemic but they are being laid off,” he added.