Naresh lost his job as cleaning staff in a hotel in Karnataka when the pandemic began. Eventually, in September 2020, Naresh joined a government hospital in Sandur taluk of Karnatakaâ€™s Bellary district as a cleaning staff (under Group D category) on a contract basis. His prime task involved cleaning COVID-19 wards, but was given additional tasks of taking care of COVID-19 patients, as well as putting dead bodies of COVID-19 patients in plastic bags and handing them over to ambulances. A year later, on Wednesday, September 22, 30-year-old Naresh was standing at Bengaluruâ€™s Maurya Circle, along with scores of other employees, shouting slogans and demanding the Karnataka government to continue their employment services.
One of the protesters showed this reporter a circular, which said that the employment of those who were hired on a contract basis will come to an end on September 30, 2021. All the employees at this protest said that they had received a similar circular. The protesters included doctors, nurses, lab technicians, pharmacists and data entry operators, who were hired by the Karnataka government on a contract basis last year.
All the protesting employees TNM spoke to said that the state government treated the contract employees unfairly. â€śWe have worked for over a year amid all difficulties of COVID-19, risking our lives. Initially, they (the government) praised us and garlanded us, saying we were COVID-19 warriors, and that we worked risking our lives and our families' lives. Now, they are throwing us away since their necessities are met,â€ť said Avinash R, the state president of the contract workers union, addressing the crowd.
One of the employees, T Raghavendra, told TNM that the loss of employment would impact his livelihood, and, in turn, affect his family. â€śI live in a joint family. Due to my work in the hospital, several members of my family and I were infected with the coronavirus. Now when we have done such a service, how fair is it to simply throw us away?" asked Raghavendra, who works as a lab technician at the government hospital in Bellary.
"I'm currently 40 years-old and if I lose this job, it will be very difficult to find a new one now. In addition to the regular and daily expenses, my mother is not well and we have to spend around Rs 1000 to Rs 2,000 monthly for her medication alone,â€ť he said.
The workers alleged that they had not received any risk allowance, said Raghavendra, who also alleged that he, too, was assigned more COVID-19 duties beyond the scope of his role. He also alleged that there are enough vacancies for lab technicians and also other jobs. â€śInitially I was only doing COVID-19 related work but now I am doing all other tests including Malaria, HIV etc. There are vacancies and we can be appointed. We were actually hired for existing vacant positions, so what is the need to remove us now?â€ť he asked.
The employees demanded extension of their services, risk allowance and priority for direct appointment to the vacant posts in future. â€śIt is really sad to see that they call us warriors when they need us and treat us like this now. All I request the government is to not use us like tissue papers and throw us away,â€ť Naresh said.