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Mizoram health workers on indefinite strike over pay and regularization: report

Mizoram is facing severe labor shortages amid rising Covid-19 cases due to an indefinite strike by various health workers under the National Health Mission (NHM ), several media reported on Thursday.

The state government called the strike “unfortunate” and said it would take action against the agitated staff for failing to follow the rules and the contract.

More than 2,000 NHM contract workers under the umbrella of the National Union of Health Mission Employees of Mizoram (NEUM) are currently on strike crippling health facilities across the state at a time when Covid cases are rising soaring with each passing day.

NHM staff have been on mass furlough since Wednesday claiming several benefits including regularization, regular pay, medical reimbursement and transfer compensation.

Read also: Mizoram and Tripura begin fuel rationing after heavy rains in Assam disrupt rail connectivity

It is the second such strike in the past year, as workers took mass casual leave at the same time in 2021.

Last year’s July strike, however, was called off after three days after the state government gave assurances that a task force would be set up to assess and examine employee issues.

Although this year’s mass casual leave was originally scheduled to be canceled on Wednesday, it was decided to continue indefinitely as the government failed to respond to their demands, NEUM President Malsawmtluanga Hauhnar said.

He said the decision was made after his meeting with senior state officials on Tuesday remained inconclusive.

He said healthcare workers had been paid irregularly for the past ten years for unknown reasons, particularly when the state stopped receiving direct central funding.

Employee salaries are now covered by 90% of Center funds and 10% by the state government.

He said the state government failed to honor the Supreme Court’s ruling that Central Sponsored Scheme employees should be paid regularly.

Hauhnar said the government did nothing to meet their demands and the study group report was not tabled at the cabinet meeting to be implemented even after a year.

Meanwhile, the state government has said it will take necessary action against the agitated workers for failing to obey the rules and failing to uphold the contractual agreement they signed.

Speaking to reporters, the principal secretary of the health department, Esther Lalruatkimi, said NHM staff members are recruited on a yearly basis as per the contract and their jobs are renewed based on their performance.

She said there is no provision as such to regularize the workers.

However, the government has set up a study group to assess the conditions of these contract employees under the Central Sponsored Scheme (CSS), the Central Sector Scheme and allied external programs or projects and find the possibility of granting them better benefits, she said.

The official said the government had already paid the salaries until May into the respective bank accounts of the restless health workers and the salaries for June were being processed.

Calling the incident unfortunate, Lalruatkimi said it was not fair that a strike was only being organized by a certain group of CSS employees at a time when the state is seeing an increase in Covid cases.

State Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms Secretary Lalramnghaka, who accompanied Lalruatkimi to the press conference, said they asked the agitated healthcare workers to understand the situation and the complexities, as the regularization and granting other benefits is a long process that cannot be rushed.

He said the study group was essentially formed to frame a policy by examining the legal validity and the pros and cons of regularizing contract employees under the state government.

However, developing a policy is a long process as certain issues, including financial impact, existing recruitment rules, constitutional violation and litigation, need to be assessed and considered in the process.

He said the government could not consider and give preference to NHM staff alone as there are thousands of contract staff under the central sponsorship scheme.

On Wednesday, the state government again called on restless employees to return to their jobs and also ordered all relevant supervisory authorities to ensure that employees return to their workplaces.

On July 8, the government had also banned strikes by health workers under the 1990 Mizoram Essential Services Maintenance Act.

Despite the call of the government, the employees remain inflexible.

Meanwhile, the leader of the opposition Legislative Zoram People’s Movement (ZPM) party, Lalduhoma, has accused the state government of allegedly intimidating the workers into returning to their jobs.

He said the government should take proactive steps to find solutions to the problems of restless employees.

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