With only a few weeks to go for the Gujarat Assembly polls, the employees of the health department’s Tuberculosis control programme have become the latest to strike against the state government for various demands, including permanent employment and salary hike.
On Monday, around 1,100 employees of the TB control programme went on mass Casual Leave (CL) announcing an indefinite strike urging the government to concede to their 14-point demands. The employees arrived at their respective offices under the district health departments as well as the civic bodies and submitted their CL.
All personnel, including supervisors, senior treatment supervisors, senior TB lab supervisors, lab technicians, data entry operators, TB health visitors, accountants, drug resistance supervisors (DPS), coordinators, medical officers, as well as other contractual workers of the programme will refrain from providing services until the demands are met. The move will put a complete pause on the activities of TB control across 33 districts.
In Vadodara, close to 100 employees met the Resident Additional Collector and handed over a memorandum with their demands enlisted and leaving offices vacant. The personnel were affiliated to the Gujarat Revised National TB Control Programme (GRNTCP) Contractual Staff Union based in Bhavnagar.
Himanshu Pandya, President of GRNTCP, told The Indian Express that the association had met the National Health Mission Director of the state on April 11, where they had been assured that the resolution would arrive “within three weeks”. “We had also met the health minister at that time and they had assured us to look into the demands and resolve our grievances immediately but five months have passed by… We have been forced to go on a strike, which we had been deferring for several years, in the larger interest of public health,” Pandya said.
He added that three of the 14 demands are “very crucial”. “The first one pertains to our employment status. We were hired in 1997, as per a GAD circular, but we continue to be on contracts… It means that despite giving nearly 30 years of our lives to the service, we have no retirement benefits nor have we been eligible for equal pay like that of permanent employees. We have demanded that we should be given permanent employment and also a compensation package for retirement.”
Pandya, who is a senior treatment supervisor in Bhavnagar district, added that with the assembly elections fast approaching, the onus lies on the government to expedite the resolution. “Even if the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is enforced for the election, the government can approach the ECI and seek special permission to end the stalemate with the crucial health programme workers if it fails to do so in time. But we have decided that the strike will not end,” Pandya said.
Health Minister Rushikesh Patel was not available for comment.
Staff from 45 health centres of the Surat Municipal Corporation also handed over a memorandum to the civic body’s Deputy Health commissioner Dr Ashish Naik. Leader of the contractual workers of TB programme, Krunal Vyas said they will go on an indefinite strike from Tuesday.
According to data from the health department, Gujarat has 110,305 TB patients under treatment across 33 districts as on September 19. Since January, 73,003 patients have been diagnosed with TB in government hospitals, while 37,302 were diagnosed through private hospitals.
Employees of the state transport department also went on a strike Monday seeking attention to their various demands, including pending dearness allowances and bonus from the last three years. “If our demands are not met, all 45,000 employees in the state transport department will go on an indefinite strike from September 22 midnight,” said Gujarat Transport Workers Federation Vice-President Bipin Langaria.
Class III officials of the revenue department in Vadodara and Valsad district also went on a mass casual leave Monday for over 18 demands. In Narmada district, teachers of Ashram Shala also sported black protest bands and continued to be on strike demanding grade pay and other benefits.