Chhattisgarh: Jal Satyagraha by Contract Workers Against ESMA, to Gherao CM's House on July 14
New Delhi: The Bhupesh Baghel government has imposed the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) against the striking workers in the health sector. Under the law, action can be taken against employees who have gone on strike, and they can even be removed from their jobs. The workers are demanding job regularisation.
This stringent step by the state government was taken after all workers -- regular, temporary and contractual - went on strike recently.
Notably, in the run-up to the Assembly elections due later this year, the Congress-led Baghel government is facing resentment by state government employees, who also went on strike. Since July 3, contractual employees across the state are also on strike, while the health workers' strike, which began on July 4, has ended after the government's assurance. However, contractual health workers associated with National Health Mission and MGNREGA (rural job guarantee scheme) are still on strike and have termed the imposition of ESMA as a 'Tughlaqi diktat’.
What’s in the Govt Directive?
According to the order issued by the State Home Department on July 11, refusal to work by all workers related to 'Public Health' (Chhattisgarh Health and Family Welfare Department) and doctors, nurses, health workers working in essential services of health facilities, in ambulance services has been banned.
Reacting to the order, Hemant Sinha, an office bearer of All Departmental Contract Employees Federation, said in a statement that no contract health worker need be afraid of ESMA. “Employees of all organisations and departments are with them, no one will lose their jobs. Everyone is united and will continue to raise their voice to fight for their rights in the future,” he said in a statement.
The Chhattisgarh Doctors Association has also issued a letter of support to the striking contractual health workers. It said it was surprised that the Congress government had promised regularisation of contractual employees in its election manifesto and has now imposed ESMA on employees who went on strike at the call of the All Department Contract Employees Federation demanding regularisation.
The letter further questions if the order means that if people remind the government of its promises, he/she would be sent to jail.
It may be noted that in the past, over 60,000 health workers had backed the strike and the demand to regularise daily wage earners, and contractual employees working in all departments, who also raised issues, such as salary discrepancies, and payment of allowances, as per the promise made by the Congress in its manifesto. The strike, which lasted for six days, was called off on July 9 after an assurance by the Deputy Chief Minister M and Health and Family Welfare Minister TS Dev Singh.
Alok Mishra, provincial general secretary of Chhattisgarh Health Employees Association, told NewsClick that regular health workers had returned to work after the assurance from the government and the meeting with the Chief Minister, but the strike by contractual health workers was on demanding regularisation.
Mishra said the Chief Minister had assured to take appropriate steps within five days. He also said that the issue of salary discrepancies would be sent to the finance department and further action has been said on this. Although this may take some time, all regular employees have returned to work relying on the assurance.
Jal Satyagraha Against ESMA
Shrikant Laskar, state secretary of Chhattisgarh All Departmental Contract Employees Association, told reporters that the government cannot “suppress the voice of employees by imposing ESMA,” which is why contract workers across the state are on Jal Satyagraha.
This Satyagraha is against the oppressive policy of the government, which first makes a promise and then forgets it, and if someone raises his voice, such laws are implemented to suppress,” he said.
Recall that recently during an indefinite strike by Patwaris and Panchayat Secretaries of Chhattisgarh, too, the government had imposed ESMA. The Patwaris had burnt a copy of the order in protest.
Along with employees of many other departments in the state, all temporary workers are also agitating and have announced a gherao of the Chief Minister's residence on July 14.
Gopal Prasad Sahu, state convenor of Chhattisgarh Irregular Employees Morcha, told Newsclick that on Friday, all the irregular employees of the state would hit the streets and march toward the Chief Minister's residence after a massive protest demonstration, with their four-point demands.
Notably, about 45,000 contract workers are employed in 54 government departments of Chhattisgarh, while there are lakhs of irregular workers, who are working in various government departments, including daily wage earners, contract workers, workers employed on labour commission rates, contract workers and education workers.
The employees said they had a lot of expectations from the government, especially in this election year, but they were disappointed as they are still working as irregular employees for several years. Far from regularising them, the government is laying them off, due to which a new crisis of employment has arisen in front of them, they added.
(Translated from the original in our Hindi website.)
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