Three days after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Uttar Pradesh government imposed the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on ambulance services—which forbids them from going on strikes—the 108 and 102 ambulance services came to a standstill on Tuesday in many districts of the state after thousands of ambulance drivers gathered in state capital Lucknow opposing the recent move and demanded reimbursement of their three months’ pending salaries among many other issues.
V Hekali Zhimomi, health secretary, passed the resolution that disrupting normal ambulance services would be followed by police action against the drivers. The order will be applicable for all 2200 ambulances across 75 districts of the state.
The agitating drivers along with several other staff members are protesting for their pending salaries, reinstatement of some terminated employees and are demanding fixed work timings of eight hours from their employer GVK EMR, which operates these services across the state.
Meanwhile, in a few districts including Banda and Firozabad, the drivers went on a hunger strike and threatened the government that until their demands are not met, the hunger strike will not end.
Sandeep, a driver of 108 ambulance in Deoria, told NewsClick, “We do not want to trouble anyone or any patient, but we are forced to take to the streets after the BJP government ignored our demands. We are supposed to work for only eight hours, but our firm is making us work for 24 hours and paying us for eight hours, which is not acceptable. We are being paid minimum wages as per the law. We will not join work until our all demands are fulfilled.”
Sandeep further added that the state president of the ambulance drivers’ union, Hanuman Pandey, had met senior officials of the Health Department, but all was in vain.
Meanwhile, the police have reportedly arrested Kanpur district president of the ambulance union. Soon after the arrest, the ambulance drivers parked all the vehicles in the Kanshi Ram Trauma Centre.
Commenting over the ongoing protest, Hanuman Pandey told NewsClick, “We have not been given any written assurance by the Health Department, but they have promised that all our seven demands will be fulfilled. The government had assured us that they will give us Rs 60 per case, but we are getting only Rs 30. And anyway, we do not want to be paid on per case basis; there should be a monthly salary. If there is no case someday, our life will be affected.”
Explaining the ambulance driver issue, Pandey said, “We work for almost 14 hours a day, but get paid for only for eight hours. Like Haryana and Delhi, employees in UP should also get service and security under the National Health Mission (NHM).”
The emergency services have been disrupted due to strike and the patients’ relatives have been upset.