|An overflowing trash bin at the Darjeeling district hospital. (Suman Tamang)
Darjeeling, June 26: Contractual cleaners and lift operators at the Darjeeling district hospital have started an indefinite dharna demanding a pay hike, but their agitation has led to a huge garbage pile-up at the facility.
The 30 workers started the dharna yesterday under the banner of a Gorkha Janmukti Morcha-affiliated organisation.
The strike has thrown the clean-up operations at the hospital out of gear. Toilets haven’t been cleaned since yesterday and rooms are filled with an overwhelming stench. Dustbins are overflowing at every corner and there is none to clean medical waste.
The labourers complained that they were not getting more than Rs 1,500 a month despite putting in more than 10 years of work. Of the 30 labourers, 24 are engaged in scavenging, four are employed as security guards and two work in the elevator.
David Rai, the president of the Janmukti Unorganised Sector Labour Organisation, said: “The workers are demanding a raise in the salaries. They also want bonus, winter allowances, annual leave, provident fund, medical facilities, basic amenities like changing room, drinking water and washroom and adequate supply of gloves, boots and raincoats.”
Kushal Chhetri, an agitating worker, said: “We should be paid according to the minimum wages act, under which a worker has to be given not less than Rs 120 a day.”
The contractor who had engaged the workers said he was in no position to hike the salary at the moment. “Tenders were last floated in 2005 and I am still paid at the old rate. I understand that the prices of essential commodities have shot up. But I cannot afford to pay the workers more than Rs 1,500, the rate that was agreed upon in the tender. Even though the contractors are supposed to get money on a monthly basis, it takes almost 16 to 17 months for the hospital authorities to pay us,” said contractor Sanjeet Prasad.
The DGHC has to shell out Rs 66,000 to Prasad a month.
The DGHC, which has been renewing the contract every year without floating fresh tenders since 2005, has decided to invite fresh bids soon.
“Even though the issue is between the contractor and his workers, we are looking into the matter with all seriousness. The DGHC has decided to call for fresh tenders and we need at least a month to complete the process. We have requested the workers to lift the dharna till then for the convenience of the public,” said secretary of the DGHC’s health department P.T. Sherpa.
The workers are in no mood to call off the agitation immediately and are waiting for a written assurance from the authorities. “Before withdrawing the dharna, we should get an assurance that the same workers would continue to be engaged even if a new person bags the contract,”
Until then, the patients will have to bear with the overwhelming stink in the 308-bedded facility, popularly known as Eden Hospital. “It is virtually impossible to use the toilet and I hope the issue will be solved as early as possible,” said a patient.
Sherpa, who visited the hospital after 10am today, directed the superintendent to showcause three doctors who were not present in the outdoor patient department during duty hours.