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TN: Govt Hospital Contract Workers Hold Protest, Say They’re ‘Underpaid, Overworked’

Two women workers, falsely accused of demanding tips, alleged they were allegedly beaten and verbally abused by the Dean.
 Contractual healthcare workers stage protest in Chennai.

Contractual healthcare workers stage protest in Chennai. Image courtesy: Sivakumar

Demanding better working conditions, minimum wages and job security, workers employed on contract basis in government hospitals held a demonstration in front of the Chennai Collectorate on Monday.

Under the banner of the Chennai Corporation Government Hospital Contract Workers Union affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the workers protested, saying that “all these years we worked like bonded labourers, we demand job regularisation now”.

“Even during the COVID-19 lockdown period, we prioritised public service over our own health,” they said, adding that an immediate grant of Rs 5,000 relief should be given to those who “got left out from the pandemic-time relief money”.

Sanitation workers, housekeepers, lab assistants, security personnel, laundry workers, ward boys and others are hired on contract basis in government hospitals across Tamil Nadu.

‘CONTRACTOR LOBBY’

These contract workers are not directly recruited by the government, and are hired through private firms through a tender to provide human resources to the hospitals.

“Earlier, many contractors were involved in the deed of providing temporary workers for government hospitals in Tamil Nadu. During the previous AIADMK regime, recruitment was brought under one contractor, Padmavathi Hospitality & Facility Management Services” said Thiruvettai, one of the protesting workers.

“After the DMK government came to power, the contract was supplied to Crystal and Smith companies. Crystal provides human resources for all government hospitals in Chennai,” he added.

He alleged “there is an underlying understanding between the ruling party ministers and the contractors, who are also party supporters. The contractor provides favours to retain the agreement”.

“Although the contractors have changed, we have been working in the same position for many years. Is it fair to deny us permanent work?” asked Sivakumar, vice president of the union. They are demanding job regularisation for those who have worked for longer than 10 years.

According to the union, there are approximately 10,000 contract workers in the 11 government hospitals in Chennai, and 50,000 workers across Tamil Nadu.

‘PLUNDER AND LOOT’

According to Sivakumar, the government provides Rs 18,000 per worker to the contractor, but the contractor gives a pittance of Rs 7,000 or Rs 8,000 to each worker. “The rest of the money goes into the pockets of the agents,” he added.

The union is demanding a minimum monthly salary of Rs 21,000.

“If 10 people are required for work, only six will be recruited and made to do the work of 10 people. The pay of the four workers is looted by the contractor,” alleged Pushparaj, general secretary of the workers union.

“Only doctors and nurses are not recruited in this method. But, the work of nurses is also partially carried out by these workers,” said Thiruvettai.

“Although the provident fund and ESI (Employees State Insurance) amount is deducted from their salaries, the workers are not provided the access numbers. We are not sure if any such details are maintained” he said, adding that the “the government is washing off their hands from the responsibility of ensuring basic rights to the workers”.

Some of their other demands include provision of weekly offs, festival holidays and sick leave, and sufficient safety equipment and changing rooms for women workers.

“Before coming to power, the DMK said all the people’s issues will be sorted if there is a regime change. Now they have announced that 85% of their promises are fulfilled. But, workers of all sectors are protesting -- transport, electricity board, city corporation etc. Nothing has changed” said Pushparaj.

ALLEGED ABUSE OF 2 WOMEN

Among the protesters, Vijaya and Pavalakodi , house-keeping staff in the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital in Chennai, alleged that they were subjected to verbal and physical abuse by their Dean.

“On July 13, we were falsely accused of demanding tips from the attendees of patients. When I was trying to explain to the Dean that this was not true, he hit me hard on my head,” ’alleged Pavalakodi.

“Although the attendant concerned clarified to the Dean that we did not ask for any tip, the Dean threatened him of action for changing his stance,” said Vijaya.

“The Dean instructed two fellow female workers to strip us and check if we were hiding the Rs 20 tip. I was stripped completely, and of course they did not find the cash on me. Yet, we were taken to the police station” alleged Pavalakodi.

Both of the women said they were suffering from high blood pressure problems, and the incident had taken a toll on their health.

The CITU has condemned the ill treatment of the two women workers and has demanded a probe against the Dean for alleged harassment.

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