Around 3.30 am on Sunday, he was on his way to attend to his second case after midnight.

Overworked paramedic dead Ktaka govt silent on strike by 108 Ambulance employeesImage: 108 Ambulance employees protest/ File photo
news Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - 20:29

In the early hours of Sunday morning an overworked paramedic passed away while on duty. He had been working for 72 hours continuously prior to his sudden death. This was on top of working 14 consecutive days until Sunday.

Thirty-year-old Ramesh KM had been working with the GVK EMRI company, an emergency management research institute, which was given the contract by the Karnataka government to handle the 108 ambulance service in August 2008.

Around 3.30 am on Sunday, he was on his way to attend to his second case after midnight.

Ramesh

According to one of the workers, he suffered from fits initially and no attempts to revive him were working.  He died of cardiac arrest on his way to the government hospital in Raichur, which is 35 km from the health care center at Gubbaru village in Devadurga Taluk, he was associated with.

Ramesh’s brother Nagaraj said that his brother had been working as paramedic since 2009. He first joined the 108 Ambulance service in Shivamogga where he worked for 2 years. He then left the profession for 3 years as it was too stressful. Due to financial reasons and pressure from friends, he rejoined as a paramedic in Raichur in 2014.

On Tuesday when he last spoke to Nagaraj, he complained about stressful work. He had been working continuously for 72 hours. He was one of the 24 drivers and paramedic staff members who have been reporting to work while 100 others from the district are on strike.

Close to 2000 employees working for 108 Ambulance service across the state have been on strike for the last 57 days demanding increment and overtime pay according to labour laws from the GVK EMRI company.

However, what has irked them even more are the unconstitutional conditions posed by the company in January 2016, which do not even let them air their grievances publicly or approach the government for their resolution.  

“We want the company to suspend the condition mentioned in the undertaking given by the company as it restricts out constitutional right to protest against injustice,” says Shivanna, Raichur district president of 108 Ambulance union.

This paramedic, who has worked for six years in the profession says that the company’s demand against workers approaching media or the government or speaking to any media house in case of disputes is cruel.

“We will have our hands tied if we sign the undertaking which says all work-related disputes should be dealt with only by the company. The number of working hours is not mentioned in the undertaking which means that we have to report to work whenever they ask us to. Some of their conditions violate human rights. They won’t take us in even if we end the strike because we have refused to sign the undertaking,” he said.

“Both the paramedic staff and pilots get a salary of a little over Rs 8000 a month. Our usual working hours are only 8 hours. However, we work an extra 4 hours because we really don’t know when work would come and it is always flexible. Isn’t it our right to demand overtime charges?” asks a member of 108 Ambulance Union, who did not want to be named.

Because of a serious staff crunch, GVK EMRI had a walk-in interview in March to fill 2000 posts for staff nurse, ambulance driver, medical officer, lab technician and pharmacist vacancies. They recruited and deployed over 750 people out of which 350 were paramedics.

Rakesh (name changed), an ambulance pilot, who was recruited by GVK EMRI in March 2016 and who works out of Raichur said that the work schedule has been very hectic as a result of the strike.

“I joined about a week ago, but only after joining I got know about the protest and the problems that the workers face. I was told that the working hours would be 12 hours a day with a weekly off, but since there are few workers now, I have to be ready to work anytime there is a requirement. I have not got a week off and I am sure until this problem is resolved working here is going to be hectic,” says Rakesh.

“I applied for the job because I thought it would be a secure job as I would be working for the government. Later I realised that everything is controlled by the GVK company. The company asked me to sign a few documents, but now I realised some of the conditions mentioned are quite unacceptable,” he added.

Health minister UT Khader told The News Minute that he was not aware of Ramesh’s death.

When asked about overworked staff because of the strike he said that he had received no complaints as such. 

He also said that he was aware of the company’s clause that asked the staff to settle disputes with the company.

“However, if the problem is not settled they could approach the ministry,” he added.​​

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