Kolkata: The Federation of Medical and Sales Representatives Association of India (FMRAI), the nodal organisation for medical representatives and sales promotion employees in the country, has convened a nationwide strike across all sectors on January 19 to protest against the introduction of the four new labour code and present a 16-point demand to the Centre, the state government, and the employers.
There are more than three lakh sales promotion employees in the country and about 1,10,000 of them have become members of the association .
Shantanu Chatterjee, general secretary of FMRAI, told Newsclick, “Principally, our strike is against the fact that with the introduction of the new labour code, the earlier Sales Promotion Act, 1976, would go to vogue. The 1976 Act is like an umbrella giving protection to the sales promotion employees.”
He also contested the levying of 12% GST on life-saving drugs in the country in the pre and post Covid-19 situations and proposed to start a price control mechanism of the life-saving drugs available in the market.
Currently, India allocates only 1.8% of its GDP towards healthcare while the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation has been to allocate more than 5% of GDP for the industry. Along with an increased government expenditure on healthcare, the FMRAI has also demanded data privacy, prevention of data misuse, and introduction of suitable legislation for the same.
The association has urged the state governments to oversee the implementation of the Minimum Wages Act. The sales promotion employees have to work in malls amid this pandemic and visit medical shops, which risk their health. It is for the state governments to see that they are not harassed as their right to work is constitutionally guaranteed, it said.
To the employers, the FMRAI has demanded to protect the rights of the workers and safeguard them from job loss, which is a unwelcome thing when the industry is in a buoyant mood after the pandemic.
Sales promotion employees speaking to Newsclick claimed that a hire and fire rule would emerge with the introduction of the new labour code .
Gautam Sengupta, an employee at RICCO Industries, said he was suddenly transferred from Siliguri to Kolkata, and then from Kolkata Chandigarh. He had to put in his resignation after contesting the transfer decision in the judicial forums. Currently, Sengupta’s transfer and termination notices are the basis of a case at the 5th Industrial Tribunal in Kolkata .
Sengupta said that the new labour codes would make the fight of the employees against their employers’ forceful termination notices even more difficult. “Issues such as the fixed term employment would make two category of employees within an organisation -- one permanent and another on fixed term, whose work profile will be reviewed after every 11 months. It will discriminate against the employees and violate their right to life as given under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Through this law, serving lockout notices at industries having less than 300 employees is being made easier; earlier, it was for industries having less than 100 staffers on their payroll. Over and about 92% to 93% of the Indian workforce falls within this category. Overall, the new labour code will be detrimental to workers’ interests,” he said while speaking to Newsclick.
Partha Rakhit (54) of Wallace Pharmaceutical underlined that work from home was practically impossible for the sales promotion industry and amid the pandemic situation, some companies even went to the extent of stopping payment of wages to their employees. “In our industry, the statutory working rule under the earlier law is being violated day in and day out. We also demand eight hours working day,” Rakhit said.
Issues like payment for prescription and lack of data privacy are coming up whereby the consumers are the greatest sufferers. Online drugstores have reportedly violated laws while schedule H drugs are being sold without prescriptions. Now Reliance is coming into the pharma distribution, which will put pressure on the small-scale distributors and retailers. Small, standalone medical shops under this discount-driven market are suffering the most .
According to Arijit Dey (48) of Abbot Pharmaceuticals, since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been turbulence in the industry even though its profit margins are running on an all-time high. “An attempt is being to bring the employees under the hire and fire rule, which we are resisting with all our might. The new labour code particularly promotes the hire and fire concept amidst the sales promotion employees. Work norms are tightened now and the petrol price increase has led to workers who use motorcycles to face abnormal loses in daily allowances,” he said.
“As workers of the healthcare industries visits hospitals and places where Corona cases are high, we had demanded all the companies to arrange for workplace vaccination of their employees. Except a few, most of them did not arrange for workplace vaccination,” said Arijit Dey while speaking to Newsclick. “The black marketing regarding the medicines needed for Covid-19 treatment, such as Tocilimizumab, has shown why healthcare should not be a commodity and the dearth of infrastructure in hospitals, and such issues have led to our strike,” he added.
It is due to our national association that we are a disciplined and organised workforce, and schemes like maternity benefit and minimum wages are still in force in the industry,” Dey said.