Mumbai doctors allege dues not paid; 80 COVID-19 workers sacked

Updated: Jun 02, 2020, 07:12 IST | Diwakar Sharma, Faizan Khan | Mumbai

While medics battling pandemic allege bad treatment, 80 workers on contract protest at VVMC against sacking

A section of doctors working in COVID-19 wards at civic-run hospitals in the city have complained of step-motherly treatment over payment, accommodation and transport. Apart from long hours spent travelling, these doctors are worried about passing on the infection to their families.'

How will we survive? Most of the extern doctors end up exhausted after work as there is no door-to-door transport facility," said a doctor who works at a civic hospital where COVID-19 patients are being treated.

These doctors are called externs as they studied medicine at institutes outside the city or at foreign institutes but do their internships at city hospitals.

A COVID-19 testing booth at KEM Hospital. Pic/Suresh Karkera
A COVID-19 testing booth at KEM Hospital. Pic/Suresh Karkera

"Students who graduate from outside of Mumbai have to pay the Maharashtra University of Health Sciences (MUHS) in Nashik to be able to intern here. I studied in a medical college outside India and wanted to do my internship in the city as my parents live here," a woman doctor told mid-day.

Another woman doctor said, "In the first week of April, I paid MUHS to let me do the internship and choose a civic hospital. Around mid-April, the hospital was turned into a COVID-19 hospital."

"We have been working as hard as the interns but we are not being paid. A few interns don't report to work citing health issues. All the interns have been given accommodation at the hospital premises. And they don't have to travel for long hours like us," said another doctor.

Fired contractual workers protest outside in Virar. Pic/Hanif Patel
Fired contractual workers protest outside in Virar. Pic/Hanif Patel

"We have to request relatives to drop up at the bus stop for the BEST bus. When that is not available, I have to pay exorbitant amounts to autorickshaw drivers. Even for distances which would cost minimum fare, rickshaw drivers are charging R100 in the lockdown."

These doctors are working at civic-run hospitals such as KEM, RN Cooper, BYL Nair, etc.

"We are not against the work. We have studied to work amid a severe health crisis but not at the cost of lives or that of our families. Either provide us with accommodation inside the hospital itself or don't ask us to work at isolation wards. We don't want to carry the virus home and infect our elderly parents," said a doctor.

Gangatharan D, municipal chief, VVMC. Pic/Hanif Patel
Gangatharan D, municipal chief, VVMC. Pic/Hanif Patel

"We are doing our best amid the crisis as several interns have not reported to work and in some conditions, we have handled COVID-19 positive cases singlehandedly in the absence of senior doctors. Yet we don't get paid," the doctor said.

Official speak
"KEM Hospital provides good clinical experience to externs. The externship is a voluntary service and these doctors, in an undertaking, forgo the stipend when they join. Now, giving them stipend won't be possible if they seek it," said Dr. Hemant Deshmukh, dean of KEM Hospital.

"Interns' stipend has been increased from R6,000 to R11,000 and we have been paying them extra money too. These doctors must be feeling that they should be paid too. They have not written to us seeking remuneration. If they give us anything in writing, we will think about it," Dr Deshmukh said.

However, doctors have claimed that interns are getting additional pay of R50,000 for working in COVID-19 wards, which they aren't. "Externs are feeling discouraged as they are not being paid for COVID-19 duty like interns," a doctor said.

"With regard to transport, door-to-door services are not possible as BEST buses cannot go to every doctor's doorstep. Our nurses and class one employees are also coming from far off places and they have been managing. If these doctors want accommodation in KEM Hospital to save on travel time, they can directly approach me," Dr. Deshmukh said.

VVMC fires contractual staff
Contractual employees who claim to have worked at quarantine centres and COVID-19 hospitals for the Vasai Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVMC) staged a protest outside its Virar head office on Monday after the civic body sacked over 80 of them without paying for April and May.

Poornima Gaikwad, who worked as a cleaner for VVMC, said, "I was jobless after the lockdown hit. The municipal corporation offered jobs in COVID-19 and quarantine wards. We got lured by the permanent jobs offers. We were asked to work without any documentation, though identity cards were issued. We did everything in COVID-19 wards from cleaning to taking care of patients. Two months later, we are fired without getting a single penny." The workers were promised a salary of R15,500.

"I used to climb seven floors every day as lifts were not working. We took bodies of COVID-19 patients to graveyards and crematoriums when families refused to touch them. We worked for over 12 hours wearing PPE kits. Only thing we got is a letter stating we are fired. What about the work we have done?" said, Rachit Sheth, who worked as a ward boy at a civic quarantine centre.

One of the supervisors, under whom the people worked, said, "These youngsters worked hard, they did everything from cleaning, sweeping, maintaining hygiene in the vicinity to wrapping COVID-19 affected bodies, taking them to the funeral and helping their families but didn't get paid. Their work was commendable. In their absence, patients ask for them."

"The contractual employees risked their lives and worked very hard. They should not have been removed at a time when the government has ordered not to sack workers. I have learnt that they have not even been paid for their work," said Pravin Shetty, mayor of VVCMC.

VVCMC Commissioner Gangatharan D did not respond to calls and messages.

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