Ram Pyare Ram at Woodlands on Friday. (Bhubaneswarananda Halder)
A Trinamul councillor on Friday cocked a snook at his party supremo’s diktat on strikes and led a ceasework at Woodlands hospital, resulting in a clash.
State labour minister Purnendu Bose was quick to claim that the clashing unions at the Alipore hospital had no association with Trinamul but the presence of Ram Pyare Ram, councillor of ward 79, on the premises during the wildcat strike told a different story.
The agitation by at least 70 Group D employees started around 7.30am and continued till 2pm, reviving memories of disruptive politics at health care hubs during the Left regime and forcing the Woodlands management to bring employees from other shifts to keep operations normal.
The agitating employees, led by Ram, called the strike to protest the management’s decision to deduct an amount from the salaries of the employees who were allegedly leaving the hospital early during evening shifts or staying away from work without any valid reason.
The employees allegedly used force to stop others from entering the hospital, mostly supporters of the rival faction of the Woodlands’ Hospital Staff Welfare Association headed by the Trinamul MLA Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay. “This led to a clash between the two groups in the hospital compound. The management had to call police,” said an official of the 230-bed hospital.
Hospital services were unaffected but the agitation triggered panic among some patients and their relatives, the official said.
“I had warned Ram that our chief minister is strictly against strikes and she would not allow any such activity inside a hospital. He refused to listen to me and their men assaulted our members. The management sought our help and we gave them full support by asking off-duty employees to go to work,” said MLA Chattopadhyay.
Ram, however, rejected the assault charge and claimed that he had asked some of his followers to report for work so that services were not hampered.
Why did he allow his men to call the strike?
“Without a strike, how can we protest the stringent measures of the management and work for the welfare of the employees?” Ram shot back, sitting on a chair in the parking lot where the striking staff had gathered.
Hardly an echo of what Mamata Banerjee had said on July 25 to taxi operators who had threatened a strike: “Calling strikes every day will not do. This is blackmailing and it is just not done…. We won’t tolerate such behaviour.”
Labour minister Bose claimed that the striking workers at Woodlands had no connection with his party. “There is no workers’ union at the hospital affiliated to Trinamul. Leaders from our party could have been there but the agitating employees were not linked to us.”
He also apologised on behalf of the state government. “I’ll talk to the leaders who were there,” he added.
“If hospital employees fight among themselves, what will happen to the patients? The services will collapse,” said Durga Datta Gupta, a relative of a patient admitted to the private facility.
According to a Woodlands official, the timings of the evening shift for the Group D staff were changed from 1pm-9pm to 1.30pm-9.30pm in January. “But some of the workers kept leaving the hospital at 9. They also spent hours away from work without citing any reason. The management decided to deduct an amount from their salaries as a disciplinary action,” the official said.