Staff of Gujarat’s TB control program are set to strike

With just a few weeks left to go until elections in the Gujarat Assembly polls, the employees of the department’s Tuberculosis control program are the latest group to protest with the government of Gujarat in protest of various reasons, including the possibility of permanent employment and a salary increase.

On Monday, more than 1100 employees in the TB control program took large Casual leave (CL) declaring an indefinite strike and asking the government to give in to fourteen-point requests. They were able to get to their respective offices within the health departments of their districts and the civic bodies to submit their CL.

All employees that include supervisors, as well as senior treatment supervisors senior TB lab supervisors lab technicians, data entry operators accountants for TB health and Drug resistance Supervisors (DPS) medical officers, coordinators, and other employees of the program, will stop offering services until the requirements are fulfilled. This puts a halt to the work of TB control in 33 districts.

In Vadodara around 100 workers met the Resident Additional Collector and were handed an official memorandum containing their demands listed, making vacant offices. The employees were members of the Gujarat Revised National TB Control Programme (GRNTCP) Contractual Staff Union located in Bhavnagar.

Himanshu Pandya, President of GRNTCP said in the Deccan Era that the association had met with the National Health Mission Director of the state on April 11, and they were told of the fact that the decision would be in place “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 told.

He said Three of 14 requirements have been deemed “very crucial”. “The first one concerns our status as employees. We were employed in 1997, according to a GAD circular, yet we are still under contract… This means that, despite having devoted over thirty years to service, however, we are not eligible for retirement benefits, nor have we been able to receive an equal amount of pay to permanent employees. We have repeatedly demanded that we receive permanent employment, as well as an incentive package to retire.”

Pandya who is a senior treatment supervisor in the Bhavnagar district said that, with the assembly elections nearing, the burden is on the government speed up the resolution. “Even in the event that it is the case that the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) is enforced in the elections the government could contact the ECI and ask for an exemption to end the impasse in the health care programme’s crucial workers if it fails to comply on time. We have decided the strike will not be over,” Pandya said.

Minister of Health Rushikesh Patel was not available to comment.

Health workers from 45 centers that are part of the Surat Municipal Corporation also handed an email to the municipal body’s deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Ashish Naik. The head of the contractual employees of the TB program Krunal Vyas, said that they will begin an indefinite strike beginning on Tuesday.

According to the health department, Gujarat has 110,305 patients with TB in treatment across 33 districts as of September 19. Since January, 73,003 people were confirmed to have TB in hospitals run by the government while 37,302 were treated at private hospitals.

The state transportation department also went on an unofficial strike on Monday, seeking attention to their numerous demands, which include the pending Dearness allowances and bonuses over the past 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,” declared Gujarat Transport Workers Federation Vice-President Bipin Langaria.

Class III officials from the revenue department of Vadodara in Vadodara and Valsad district also took an unofficial leave on Monday to meet more than 18 demands. Within the Narmada district, the teachers from Ashram Shala also sported black protest bands and remained striking for grade pay as well as other benefits.

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