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The '108 service' conundrum

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Public Health

Duty calls, but they decided to hold the state on ransom to make their woes heard, by evading duty calls. Hundreds of drivers and paramedical staff of Arogya Kavacha (108 ambulance services) gathered at Freedom Park to press for their demands for job security and wage hikes on Sunday.

Although ambulance services across the state remained unaffected, the inconvenience was no less. These drivers and paramedic staff demanded the government for the termination of contract with GVK EMRI alleging the firm of not operating as per the MoU with the government.

"The company is harassing us instead. We all work for more than twelve hours a day, most of us are posted outside our districts and paid a paltry sum pay of Rs 7,000, which is never sufficient considering all the necessary expenses. At times, we have to pay for the repair works done to the ambulances and there is no job security for us, workers are getting sacked easily. And they never heeded our requests," said N H Paramshiva, vice-president of Karnataka Rajya Arogya Kavacha 108 Naukara Sangha, the union leader.

He added, "The government should terminate the contract with GVK EMRI and raise our pay. Also, the sacked employees should be taken back into service. We have put these demands forward a month ago, but there was no response from either the government or GVK. We have no option but to go for strike."

- - - "For the past four years, we are paid the same salary and little increments, despite the hard work and commitment to save lives. We have done our best to avoid this situation as we don't want the common people to suffer. There is no job security so what should we do?" Nagaraj told TOI.

- - - When asked about health minister U.T. Khader remark terming it as an internal matter of GVK EMRI, Paramshiva said it is the government that signed the MoU, it is their responsibility to intervene and sort this issue.

For the full report in the ToI, click here.

This is typical of private sector industry labour scenario, particularly where the skill levels involved are fairly low. And, it is inevitable in a country like ours where there is huge availability of not-so highly (rather, properly) educated/ skilled work force. In such a scenario, what ultimately works for the labour lot plainly is their union clout.

The situation here is slightly different in that this is a non-profit essential service being run by a corporate, more as a CSR initiative, in a PPP mode (check here). As such, use of union clout here will not generally go down well with the public, an indication of which is the scant comments from readers of the ToI article.

The irony of it all is that simultaneously there exists a huge shortage of skilled work force in the country. As such, rather than adopting coercive tactics, the work force would do well to put in the best of efforts to upgrade their skills to tap into the huge market at asking salary levels.

Undoubtedly, there is exploitation. But the government, which should be keeping a tab on it all, is the biggest culprit of them all in this aspect, with most of its work done by workers, who remain on contract (or as temporary) for years together, whether as poura-karmika's, forest guards, nurses, bus drivers/ conductors, or even as "night rat killers" (of Mumbai municipality - check here), most often at lower than 'minimum wage' levels, and exploitative working conditions, sometimes worse than those adopted by the unorganised private sector even. That being the case, it has no moral authority whatsoever to enforce the existing laws, with their eventually landing up largely as tools for extracting 'mamools' (which are no longer small, as the word should imply) by the inspectors.

The reason why the government flouts its own laws is also fairly simple - very plainly, it will never be able to discharge its functions, even at the current dismal levels, large parts of the laws being totally impractical. The answer therefore lies in rationalising the laws (quite like Gujarat and Himachal have already done - check here), as also the government simultaneously ceasing to be an employer at other than the highest levels (check this).

Muralidhar Rao


murali772's picture

summary, and a corollary

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We have also been doing our best in terms of keeping you motivated by paying salaries on time credited to bank accounts with salary slips, providing all employee benefits like PF, ESI, Gratuity, Accident Insurance of Rs 5 lakhs & General Insurance of another Rs 5 lakhs. We have also been providing annual increments every year based on the performance and commitment levels.

For the full text of the appeal by the Management, GVK - EMRI, Karnataka, click here.

If they are doing all of these, then I can't see where the emplyees have a case for going on strike. Obviously, they are being misled by unionists promising them the moon; or, more likely of getting the service "nationalised", so that they can then impose their "mafia raaj", which will then lead to the prevalence of a "sarkari culture", quite like in all of the services run by government agencies. However, unlike in the case of the other services, a service like this can't quite survive if it is overtaken by sarkari culture. The government understands this fully well, and that is quite clearly why it is backing the management to the hilt here. Apart from this is also the fact that the public has generally come to appreciate the good work being dione by the service, under the PPP model, and if the government now chooses to do it all, on its own, it will get thoroughly exposed, comparisons becoming inevitable.

The important question that arises out of this episode, besides, is whether the the country can continue to afford the "at-best mediocre" services, resulting out of the sarkari culture, dished out by the other government service providers, particularly the monopolies. The answer being an obvious and loud NO, isn't it then time the people raised the demand for outsourcing, privatisation, or a minimum of dismantling of monopolies, simultaneous with the strengthening of the regulatory mechanisms?

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