The multipurpose workers appointed in the Siddha hospitals in Tamil Nadu in 2009 and 2010 continue to wait for the regularisation of jobs and minimum wages. All these years they have worked on a daily wage of Rs 300 without any benefits.
Since the number of workers is low, a total of 199 across the state, their plights remain unaddressed by the successive governments. The workers demand regularisation of jobs, consolidated wages and better service conditions, with social welfare measures. The workers marched to the office of the directorate of medical and rural health services (DMS) in Chennai to register their protest against neglect and exploitation.
The workers also allege discrimination and exploitation by the hospital authorities and of being victimised for raising their demands. The workers were credited for their service during the COVID-19 pandemic when the state government set up Siddha care centres for the infected persons.
‘RS 300 DAILY WAGE SINCE 2009’
The multipurpose workers were appointed to Siddha hospitals in 2009 and 2010 during the tenure of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) when the late M Karunanidhi was the chief minister. The workers were placed under the AYUSH department of the medical services department.
“We were appointed as AYUSH multipurpose workers with a daily wage of Rs 300 for 26 working days a month. Our monthly earnings are Rs 7,800 and if we take a leave we lose our wage. It has not changed for the last 12 years,” a worker from Dindigul said.
Contractualisation of several services, including nurses, security workers and sanitation workers have increased in the health department, while other departments in the government follow such measures to reduce expenses.
The Siddha hospitals have doctors, pharmacists and multipurpose workers to take care of the outpatients. The multipurpose workers are engaged in maintaining the herbal gardens and carry out the cleaning of consulting rooms, pharmacies and toilets.
“Despite carrying out all the designated works, our works are not recognised. The doctors are now being provided consolidated wages and the pharmacists are regularised. But, we continue to serve at a paltry wage,” the worker said.
The workers also said that they were utilised by the allopathy section in registering the outpatients. They also engage in providing yoga training and services to pregnant women, among other duties.
‘NEGLECTED AND VICTIMISED’
The workers were engaged in distributing herbal drinks at bus stands, railway stations and other public places during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the state government set up Siddha COVID care centres for patients with mild infections, they were pressed into service.
“We carried the cans on our heads to doorsteps and other public places during the pandemic. We took care of the patients who were admitted to the care centres risking our lives since we were not provided with any preventive gear. But, the government continues to neglect us,” another worker said.
The workers also alleged that the ex-gratia of Rs 15,000 announced for the frontline workers were not provided to them.
“We ensured our best services are extended all the time to the patients. In spite of all these, our wages were cut for taking leaves and we are not covered under any social welfare schemes like EPF and ESI. whenever we raise our demands with the local authorities, they depute us to faraway places to silence us,” another multipurpose worker said.
‘ENSURE RIGHT TO THE WORKERS’
The workers held a protest in the DMS office complex in Chennai and demanded regularisation of their jobs, with improved service conditions.
Rajendran, coordinator of the multipurpose workers’ union said, “In the name of service, the workers in the medical field are exploited. Without any benefits of maternity and medical leaves since their appointment, they have suffered a lot. The demands have been submitted to the commissioner and the mission director”.
The workers demand a minimum wage of Rs 650 along with better service conditions and leave benefits.
“The working class in the country are the most affected by the policies of the Union government. The workers could further lose their rights with the codification of labour laws. We plan for sustained struggles to win over the basic rights for the workers,” Rajendran said.