On Sunday, 33-year-old microbiology lab technician Ramchandra Seth watched as a helicopter showered flowers over the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), a COVID-19 centre here. The gesture of solidarity seemed lost on Seth as he battled his emotions — his colleague tested a few days ago.
Seth is one of the 18 “outsourced” lab technicians at RIMS. They studied paramedics at the institute and joined the hospital as temporary technicians due to lack of other jobs, and later wrote the examination for a permanent seat in the hospital and got selected. However, several months later, Seth is yet to be appointed. Worse still, he has not been paid for two months.
Currently under quarantine at RIMS, Seth said he and his colleague — who tested positive –would sort out samples and note down numbers. “I don’t know where we missed, we are scared,” he said.
All that the outsourced technicians want is better treatment, Seth said. “I get Rs 7,500 per month, and payment is always delayed. We have been selected for permanent posts, but have not been appointed. Our salaries would have gone up to Rs 35,000. We get peanuts for the risk we take. My wife wants me to quit this job where I am not respected. She is ready to eat starch and rice for that.”
He added that facilities are below par. For instance, he said, he has to make his own arrangements for a jar of water in his quarantine room.
Since his colleague tested positive, testing at RIMS has been halted for sanitisation purposes. Meanwhile, the technicians are on strike to press for their demands.
Anther outsourced technician, Santosh Kumar Singh, who was roped in for the COVID-19 lab, commutes a few kilometres from his home every day. “The doctors are kept in good hotels, nurses go for mandatory quarantine after a week. But we have to work every day. We demand work on rotation basis,” he said.
Hitesh Kumar, another technician, said he wrote a resignation letter after the outbreak. “But I abandoned the idea, thinking of the patients.”
There are currently 30 technicians—permanent and outsourced–working in the micro-biology department in two shifts. They play an important role in “collecting information, sampling, testing, reporting, documenting medical investigation” among others.
Regarding their appointment, The Indian Express accessed three letters written by RIMS Director D K Singh to the Health Minister, Principal Secretary Health, and Special Officer to the Chief Minister.
One letter, sent on March 27, said that RIMS “urgently needed technicians”. The letter to the Health Secretary on March 28 said that 33 lab technicians have been selected and sought approval for the appointment. On April 4, the letter was sent to the Health Minister, stating : “There is a dearth of lab technicians in RIMS… and the request is to appoint the selected quickly.” Among 33 lab technicians selected for permanent posts, 18 are working on outsourced payroll, of whom 14 are working in the Microbiology Department.
RIMS Director D K Singh told The Indian Express, “There is staff shortage, we need more nurses and paramedics. I have written multiple letters to draw their attention to appoint the selected outsourced technicians for permanent jobs. They are the weakest link in the frontline fight against the disease and we need to motivate them.” On the salary front, he said that since the technicians are outsourced, it is not under their control.
On the appointment of lab technicians, Principal Secretary Health Nitin Kulkarni said, “I am not the deciding authority. It is RIMS headed by the minister.”
Hospital sources said that while other states are appointing health workers to fight the disease, Jharkhand too issued an online advertisement for recruitment of 380 doctors through JPSC. However, the technician issue is pending.
Health Minister Banna Gupta could not be reached for comment.
A petition is being heard in the Jharkhand High Court regarding appointment of 362 nurses. On March 15, the court ordered the state to complete it within a month. However, it is yet to be done.