Protests at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru on Monday exposed the alleged apathy faced by a section of frontline workers dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.
The protesters claimed that workers who tested positive for the novel coronavirus while on duty, were sent home without being given the option of institutional quarantine or quarantine in COVID Care Centres. They alleged that most of the workers do not have adequate space in their houses, to maintain physical distancing with their family.
Hundreds of these workers, mostly housekeeping staff and hospital attenders, demanded Rs 50 lakh insurance as announced by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led union government. They said that it was only contract workers who were facing this âapathyâ as staff on the payroll were provided in-house quarantine facilities.
The protests were led by NIMHANS Pragatipara Workers' Union after the outsourced staff were allegedly threatened by the hospital registrar for asking for due protection (like masks and gloves) besides bathing/changing facilities. Members of the Pragatipara Workers' Union said that the administrationâs apathy was encouraging the spread of the disease among families of its own workers.
Basavaraj, General Secretary of the union, said, âThree of our colleagues have already got the infection and they have been told to isolate at home. We want the hospital to arrange 50 beds for us or else our families will get it (COVID-19) too. When we approach the authorities, they tell us to go to NIMAHNS only, but the management at the hospital tells us that they have no responsibility as we are contract workers.â
He added, âWe are also required to wear PPE (personal protective equipment) kits but we are not being allowed to bathe within the facility. Itâs risky to go home without taking a bath after working in the hospital all day. We do not know what to do. Arenât we humans too?â
Reacting to the protests, the hospital registrar has now said that the administration will arrange such facilities as demanded by the workers. The strike was withdrawn subsequently.
But union leaders claimed that they are now facing the threat of premature termination of their contracts.
An official at NIMHANS said that a statement will be issued formally by the administration on the protests.
On the condition of anonymity, he said, âAs of today, we are not treating COVID-19 patients unless they need critical psychiatric care. So neither our own staff or contract staff can be treated in our facility. And regarding quarantine facilities for the workers, we are in the process of setting up a facility, so I donât know why they protested today. I think workers were misled by union leaders.â