Even as the Bihar government has threatened to sack the protesting workers of the National Health Mission (NHM) in the state, who’ve been hired on a contractual basis and are demanding regularisation, the workers are not giving up. Instead, they plan to step up their agitation.
NHM workers have been on a state-wide strike since 4 December, under the banner of the Bihar State Contractual Health Employees Federation.
They are demanding a salary at par with the permanent health workers across all posts in the state, under the slogan of ‘equal work, equal pay’, until the government can make their jobs permanent. The demand for equal pay has taken precedence over other demands because not all contract workers can be made permanent as there are limited posts at present.
On December 7, Bihar principal secretary (health) RK Mahajan had given a 24-hour ultimatum to the striking workers to return to duty, otherwise, the government would terminate their contracts and start fresh hiring for the posts of the protesters.
There are around 17,000 NHM workers in the state, of which nearly 10,000 have been participating in the strike.
On December 9, there were reports that the strike had been called off in West Champaran district on December 8. However, Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANMs) and Ayush doctors on contract continued their strike.
All NHM workers are contractual, from doctors to class-4 employees. The workers include medical officers, pharmacists, lab technicians, clerks, data entry operators, and ANMs, among others.
The strike continues to take place across other areas of the state, and the Bihar State Contractual Health Employees Federation plans to only intensify the agitation.
In fact, those on strike have threatened self-immolation if the health department does not pay heed to their demand for regularisation and equal pay.
The Telegraph quoted Afroz Anwar, chairperson of the Bihar State Contractual Health Employees Federation, as saying on December 8, “We were thinking of going on a hunger strike but now that the government has decided to terminate our services for putting forth our logical demands, we would not shy away from immolating ourselves.”
Lalan Kumar Singh, secretary of the federation, told another newspaper that they planned to go on a hunger strike from 11 December, if their demand for ‘equal pay for equal work’ was not met.
Besides the higher salary, regularisation of service would entail better working conditions, said Singh. As contract workers, they are hired and fired at will by the government and are denied any other benefits that regular employees receive.
The employees of NHM, which includes National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and National Urban Health Mission (NUHM), have been agitating in other states as well over the past couple of years, with the same demands of regular jobs and higher pay on par with the permanent workers.
On December 5, the NHM workers in Haryana began a two-day statewide strike.