As the strike by contract workers entered the 12th day on Monday, GVK–EMRI, the private agency that runs the emergency 108 Arogya Kavacha services, terminated 197 employees.
While the list of terminated employees was not disclosed, the company warned that those who do not return to work immediately will face “similar termination orders”.
Workers, both emergency medical technicians (staff nurses) and pilots (drivers), received SMSs about this at noon. In the evening, the strike was still on and workers continued to camp at the Freedom Park, where many of them are on fast. Simultaneously, the company reportedly issued similar orders in Andhra Pradesh too, where workers have been on strike on similar grounds for over 19 days.
The State government had, in an order on August 2, prohibited the strike and referred the dispute for adjudication at the first Labour Court under the Industrial Disputes Act. Workers were informed of this by the local police on Sunday. While the Karnataka Rajya Arogya Kavacha Sangha has insisted that they will remain on strike until the matter of wages and regularisation is settled, the company has said it is not open to negotiation anymore as “all options have been exhausted”.
A labour official said that the strike has been prohibited as conciliation efforts by the government failed. “Now the matter is in court and both the workers and the company should respect that. The State cannot intervene in the matter anymore,” the official said.
While termination could have been avoided, the workmen are in violation of the government’s prohibition order, the official said.
S.S. Perveez, Head of Marketing, GVK-EMRI, said: “We were left with no choice but to resort to this action. We had asked them to engage in dialogue with us but it did not work out. Since it is an emergency service, we have to keep things going.”
Asked if it was legal to unilaterally terminate the services of so many workers, he said that it had been “cleared by the Human Resource Department”.
He also said that 25 per cent workers had returned to work, and that the company believed the others would turn up over the next two days.
Speaking to The Hindu, S. Prasanna Kumar of the Centre of Indian Trade Union, which has supported the strike call by the employees, said that the government was not acting in the interests of the workers.
A public interest litigation (PIL) petition was filed in the Karnataka High Court on Monday seeking direction to the State government to ensure immediate restoration of ambulance services, which has been affected owing to the employee strike.
In his petition, Kodur Venkatesh of Arise India Foundation contended that the strike had severely affected rural areas and sought a direction to the Health and Family Welfare Department and the private firm, which is handling the 108 ambulance service under the public-private partnership project.
A Division Bench, comprising Justice K.L. Manjunath and Justice Ravi Malimath, adjourned hearing till Tuesday, while asking government counsel to seek instruction from the authorities.