Yashpal Rana (40) may be currently employed, but a big question mark still hangs over his head if he will be employed again as a service staff with Centralised Accidents and Trauma Services commonly known as CATS, which runs free ambulance services across the national capital. He said, “We work 12 hours a day and almost all seven days in a week. If I add two to three hours of my travel, it will add up to 15 to 16 hours a day. For this, we get Rs 14,000 per month. I have been working for seven years and I am the sole breadwinner for my family and one fine day, we are told that we are no longer required."
Rana is one of 1,650 contractual and privately outsourced workers who have gone on strike after Delhi Government awarded tender to GVK Amri to run the ambulance service. The service was previously run by BVG India Ltd. and the company has not paid the workers for last three months. The delay seems to have taken a toll on the lives of striking workers.
He said, “We have no issues with the termination of the contract. It's a personal matter between the company and the Delhi government, but they should pay our salaries. Some of the employees are from different states. They need to pay rent and arrange ration for themselves. In the absence of regular salary, how longer can you survive." But the disbursal of the salary is not issue which has brought workers to Roads. CATS is an emergency service. The services to run ambulance were given to private players in 2016. Since then, the life has only been difficult.
Rana added, "Our working hours have increased, whereas, the salary is still stagnant. You are issued emergency memos to return on job even if you are totally exhausted. Even you are not paid your allowance for your duties on Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. We have had enough in our lives. We cannot tolerate it anymore."
A conversation with Narendra Lakra, the leader of the striking workers argue that the services and working conditions deteriorated only after privatisation was implemented in running the ambulances. He said, "One of our colleagues tried to immolate himself. One must understand the immense pressure under which these people work. We are often told that privatisation is the ultimate solution for every problem, but our experience shows that it was bad for both, patients and employees. The quality of services has only deteriorated. Often, we do not have first aid materials to help a patient. But it was not case earlier. CATS was run efficiently directly by Delhi Government. Why can it not run now? Why I am emphasising to free essential services from the clutches of private players because it is run for public welfare and not for profit. I can cite several examples where badly equipped ambulances are being run just to garner profit. Privatisation has always bred corruption."
He added that Delhi Contract Labour Advisory Board has suggested that the government should observe the employees if any agency is found to be violating labour laws. He also said that they will fight till our demands are not accepted.