Workers allege the service is poorly run, and they are denied wages and welfare

Anuroopa M.G. (32) and her husband are both staff nurses, employed by GVK EMRI, the agency that runs the government’s 108 Arogya Kavacha emergency services, as Emergency Medical Technicians. With the strike running into the 11th day on Monday, they know that their cumulative income next month will be hugely diminished.

“But what option have they left us?” asks Anuroopa, who calls it a shame that the State’s elected representatives are yet to pay them a visit as of Sunday afternoon. They’ve braved the heat in the afternoons, but worst of all, over the past week, the rains have sent them scurrying for shelter in the middle of the night. Scores of men and women from across the State, who work as either pilots (drivers) or emergency technicians (nurses), have been camping at the Freedom Park.

“The cruel thing is that even the media thinks our demands are unreasonable. If they’re paid the pittance we take home for working long 12-hour shifts, will they not protest?” she says. Things are worse for women, she says. Until two years ago, staff nurses like Rupa (26) from Davangere were forced to work the night shift. After the last round of protests in 2011, a slew of promises were made regarding salaries, welfare and work conditions. The only promise that didn’t remain on paper was cancelling night shifts for women.

If working conditions are tough for men, they’re impossible for women, says Ms. Rupa. “We’re short-staffed so we’re often forced to do overtime, and sometimes even work the night. There are no designated toilets or shelters for women in most district centres. Why, even in Bangalore most ambulances don’t have assigned shelters, and hence the question of amenities for us doesn’t arise.”

Syed Ibrahim, a driver from Raichur, agrees his women colleagues have a raw deal. He says the apathy of the officials is “shocking”.

“Does their responsibility end with signing a piece of paper once in 10 years?” He says that the government need only do a simple audit of the functioning of the service to figure things out.

Worse, many a time medication refills are delayed, forcing them to make do with whatever they have, says Girish T.K., a 28-year-old nurse from Chikmagalur. “In turn, people get angry with us for not having basic medication, sometimes even first-aid kits.”

The worst of all, Mr. Girish says, is the lack of job security. The two main demands of workers here are wages of Rs. 15,000 for drivers and nurses and making their jobs ‘permanent’. Most of the workers who The Hindu spoke with said they were paid Rs. 7,200 (for drivers) and Rs. 8,200 (for nurses).

Skilled workers

According to the 2008 MoU, between the government and GVK EMRI, wages in 2012–13 are prescribed to be Rs. 8,785 for drivers and Rs. 10,249 for staff nurses. A 22-year-old staff nurse, Ajay, points out that Rs. 8,200 is a pittance given his diploma nursing cost left him with a huge loan and he has a family to take care of. “We are skilled workers. How can they pay us so poorly? Why did the government sign an MoU that paid us so poorly?” he asks.

Yamanoor, a member of the Arogya Kavacha (108) Ambulance Employees’ Sangha, points to the case of Lakshmeesha, a fellow ambulance driver who died in an accident in February 2012. He alleges that the driver’s family is yet to be compensated, after being paid an initial settlement of a paltry Rs. 10,000.

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