Chandigarh: PGI contractual workers call off strike after two days - Hindustan Times

Chandigarh: PGI contractual workers call off strike after two days

By, Chandigarh
Apr 05, 2024 09:02 AM IST

As many as 3,500 contractual workers from various categories had gone on strike on Wednesday in Chandigarh after their union leaders were detained the previous evening while planning a protest

After staying away from work for two days, majorly impacting health services at PGIMER, the protesting contractual workers called off their strike on Thursday evening after an assurance from BJP leaders of a meeting with the Union health ministry.

Volunteers from NGOs helping patients amid the contractual workers’ strike at PGIMER, Chandigarh, on Thursday. (HT Photo)
Volunteers from NGOs helping patients amid the contractual workers’ strike at PGIMER, Chandigarh, on Thursday. (HT Photo)

As many as 3,500 contractual workers from various categories had gone on strike on Wednesday after their union leaders were detained the previous evening while planning a protest.

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The strike continued for the second day as well on Thursday, putting patients and healthcare staff through immense hardship.

Demanding equal work, equal pay, health benefits and other perks, hospital attendants, sanitation workers, kitchen staff, laundry workers and contractual security personnel remained absent from duty for most part of Thursday.

Three rounds of negotiations held

In an attempt to mitigate the situation, former Chandigarh BJP president Arun Sood held three rounds of negotiations with PGIMER director Dr Vivek Lal and Pankaj Rai, deputy director, Administration (DDA), from 4 pm to 9 pm.

Taking note of the protesters’ demand for similar pay, already cleared by the Punjab and Haryana high court, it was decided during the meeting that the DDA, along with a couple of PGIMER officers, will visit the Union ministry of health for approval of funds to comply with the high court order.

Next week, negotiations will begin on four other issues, one of which involves regularising contract workers based on the central government’s contract labour prohibition notification from December 12, 2014, along with directions from the Central Advisory Contract Labour Board, dated April 26, 2018.

This will entail creating a regular workforce in accordance with the law established by the Supreme Court’s judgment on August 30, 2021, in the case titled SAIL vs National Water Front. The PGIMER administration plans to issue the written information by 10 am on Friday.

Following these assurances, the Joint Action Committee, consisting of four registered unions namely PGI Safai Karamchari Contract Workers’ Union, PGI Electrical Contract Workers Union, PGI Hospital Attendants Contract Workers Union and PGI Security Guard Contract Workers Union, agreed to withdraw the strike.

Confirming the development, PGIMER released a statement, saying, “The contractual employees union decided to withdraw their strike with immediate effect. The employees returned and joined their respective duties in the night shift. This will help in providing uninterrupted hospital services and patient care.”

Volunteers step in to allay patients’ hardship

Earlier on Thursday, as the contractual workers continued to strike work, putting more load on the already overburdened system, volunteers from two NGOs stepped up to assist the healthcare staff. Besides, the hospital’s management asked for volunteers from the National Service Scheme (NSS) and National Cadet Corps (NCC) to lend a hand with patient care and other management tasks.

As many as 45 volunteers arrived for assistance at the New OPD, 10 from Sukh Foundation and 35 from Vishav Manav Ruhani Kendra.

Manmohan Singh, 42, from Vishav Manav Ruhani Kendra, said, “As soon as we received the request for assistance, our volunteers, both male and female, came forward to ease the situation. While some assisted patients in locating their designated room numbers and floors, others facilitated the provision of wheelchairs for elderly patients. They also guided stretchers carrying patients to their respective departments.”

DDA Pankaj Rai said, “A substantial number of individuals returned to work on Thursday and two NGOs also assisted with hospital services. On Wednesday, 40 security guards returned to work and around 70 joined duty on Thursday.”

Regular staff called back from leaves

Earlier in the day, Rai said the sanitation tasks were carried out with the assistance of regular workers. “We worked late into the night on Wednesday to clean the hospital premises. Further, we revoked the leaves of our regular workers, who even worked extra hours beyond their duty shifts. Regular staff were also redirected to assist in critical care services,” added Rai.

Senior residents and consultants, along with hospital attendants, clerks and security personnel were also forced to take on additional responsibilities amid the absence of contractual staff. They guided patients to appropriate OPDs, ensured orderly queues outside doctors’ rooms and managed patient files. Additionally, they referred patients to the correct areas for tests and other procedures.

Krishna Devi, 61, from Ludhiana expressed frustration with her visit to the endocrinology department, highlighting the chaotic situation in the OPD and her struggle to locate the doctor’s room. Upon entering, she encountered an overcrowded room, making it impossible for her to find a place to stand. As a result, she had to leave without being able to receive a consultation.

Due to the lack of security personnel, there were problems with traffic and parking. With fewer staff members at the registration desk, the queues became longer and moved slower. Only regular staff members were responsible for clearing and disposing of waste, leading to sanitation issues throughout the hospital.

During the strike, a total of 10,942 patients registered in various outpatient departments, with 162 new patients registering in the emergency department. A total of 114 new patients were admitted to different wards of the Institute. Furthermore, 223 surgical procedures, including 17 emergency surgeries, were performed in various operation theatres till 4 pm, a PGIMER spokesperson said.

Union leaders released on bail

Arrested on Tuesday after they planned a rally from PGIMER’s transport gate to Sector 25 rally ground, union leaders, including Ashwani Kumar Munjal, chairman of Joint Action Committee, Sanjeev Kumar, general secretary, Rinku, Pardeep, Harish and one other member, were released on bail on Thursday.

BJP endangering lives by ignoring contract workers’ demands: Bansal

On Thursday evening, former Chandigarh MP and senior Congress leader Pawan Bansal criticised the BJP for neglecting the demands of PGIMER’s contractual workers, resulting in a strike affecting essential services. Bansal highlighted the plight of thousands of patients facing delays and disruptions in treatment due to the absence of crucial staff like hospital attendants, sanitary workers, and security personnel.

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    Robert Abraham is a staff correspondent with the Hindustan Times in Chandigarh. He keeps readers updated on the latest developments in the world of health.

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