More than 200 ambulance drivers and other trained respondents of Meghalaya GVK Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI) 108 ambulance service have been on an indefinite strike for the last 18 days. The strike, organised under the banner of Meghalaya EMRI Workers’ Union (MEMRIWU), started on September 30, with protesters demanding that the government immediately terminate the contract with GVK EMRI, and take over the emergency services.
On October 16, the 17th day of the strike, Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma said that the state government has no plan to take over the management of the 108 emergency services in the state. Sangma said, while addressing the media: “The government had earlier decided to allow the private sector to run this essential service. It is not that the government cannot run the services on its own. But we will have to take a conscious decision about whether or not we would like to take over this service.”
Talking to NewsClick, Roipar Kharraswai, the president of MEMRIWU, said “We had to read it in the newspaper that the government has no plan to take over the ambulance service. This is the 18th day of our strike, but there have been no negotiations till date; nor has there been any communication from the management’s or the government’s side. The government has put the blame on the management, saying that it is their responsibility to solve our problems.”
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The Meghalaya government had, on October 1, promulgated the Meghalaya Essential Services Management Act (ESMA) prohibiting the strike. Despite this, the field workers continued their protest. The employees surrendered the keys of the ambulances and other medical gadgets to the management, alleging that it had breached the status quo agreement that was brokered by the state government in July, 2019.
The employees alleged that the state government has remained indifferent towards their 36-point charter of demands, which include demands of increase in salary and expansion of the workforce. Kharraswai said, “We have been demanding a hike in our salary for a long time. Our salaries are much lesser than emergency workers in other states, and we do not even get the minimum age. Without the expansion of the workforce, it is almost impossible for us to handle the workload.” The union has also accused the management of arbitrarily transferring workers if they protest against it. The workers have said that the promulgation of ESMA is to stop the field staff from fighting for their own rights
Chief Minister Sangma on Wednesday said, “It is not appropriate on the government’s side to come in and say that we will clear the dues of the workers or change the salary structure. This issue will have to be resolved between the GVK and employees,” he said.
Kharraswai told NewsClick, “It is an essential service. The government cannot, and should not let a private corporation handle it, putting thousands of lives in danger.” He added, “We are not protesting to hurt the sentiments of the people, but as breadwinners, we are fighting for our rights. The ambulances we are provided with have become useless and we are trying to manage with what we have. The parts of the ambulances are damaged, stretchers are broken, there are no proper equipment, there is a need for new ambulances.”
He said that even though the union is aware that the strike is causing certain inconveniences to the people, they had no other option but to go on a strike. Kharraswai said, “We will have to continue our protest until the government agrees to our demands.”