In a drastic response to a crisis involving health workers leaving their duties to go on strike, the Bihar government has urged health centres to begin recruiting as the government intends to terminate the contracts of up to 80,000 health workers.
Huge numbers of health workers have gone on strike within Bihar. The strike is due to the vast majority of the workers being on contracts issued under the National Health Mission. Objections to the contracts have recently emerged as many of the workers claim they are underpaid for the work they do.
The workers have rallied under the call of “equal work, equal pay”. The workers are all on temporary contracts, and are demanding both an equivalent pay to the permanent employees, as well as many within their ranks to be made permanent workers.
The upset to services caused by the strike is the driving factor behind the Bihar government’s harsh response. Due to the numbers of workers taking their leave from services, this has left many health centres in a considerably difficult position.
Bihar has seen numerous strikes within the health sector in the last year. In an instance during November, junior doctors at the Patna Medical College and Hospital went on strike following assaults by patients. This strike saw media attention as a number of deaths were associated with the reduction in provided services. Potential deaths as well as negative media attention may also contribute to the Bihar government’s decision to impose harsh measures.
In a letter written by principal health secretary RK Mahajan to all district magistrates and civil surgeons he states “Those who have boycotted work will not be paid. The process of terminating their work contracts will be taken at the earliest. Those who obstruct the staff willing to resume services will be liable to face criminal cases against them,”
The move has further provoked the striking workers, some going as far as to threaten self immolation. Some within the number of the strikers had carried out a hunger strike, though more recent threats of self immolation are a considerable step up. The protesters willing to go through with this have deemed it a necessary reaction to a “draconian decision”.
The note of potential criminal charges within RK Mahajan’s letter indicates that even when some return to work, the government expects many to try to interfere with the hospital’s procedures.
TEach side remains adamant on maintaining their position. “We will start hunger strike and even go for mass self immolation. We will not allow any government hospital to run after this decision. The state government will be responsible for any untoward incident,” said Lalan Kumar, one of the protesters. Increasingly more desperate measures are being threatened by the protestors as the strike continues.