A photo showing him and a colleague clad in astronaut-like suits carting away bio-medical waste from the isolation ward housing Nipah patients in heavy rain became a symbol of Kerala’s fight against the deadly virus in June last.
A year later, E.P. Rajeesh from Pazhoor in Kozhikode district is staging a protest outside the Government Medical College hospital where he used to work as a temporary employee.
“The government had promised to regularise the services of 47 of us who worked risking our lives in the isolation ward and the Institute of Chest Diseases during the Nipah outbreak. They turned out to be hollow words,” he said on Sunday.
The temporary employees launched an indefinite stir last week demanding that the government appoint them on a permanent basis at the medical college hospital.
Thirty cleaning workers, seven staff nurses, and five nursing assistants worked in the isolation ward where the patients were admitted.
Five others worked at the Institute of Chest Diseases. They were hired in May 2018 after some permanent staffers went on leave fearing their safety.
The government reportedly asked them to produce their identity proof and other documents ahead of regularising their services. On November 15, however, they were terminated from service. The Health Department extended their services till December 31 after widespread protests. Though it was promised that their jobs would be protected, their services were terminated again on December 31.
They went on a strike for over two weeks in January this year, which was withdrawn after the medical college authorities promised jobs for 22 of the former temporary staff.
Mr. Rajeesh was on a hunger strike from May 27 till June 2, when his health deteriorated and was admitted to a hospital. V.N. Prema, another former temporary employee, is observing the fast now.
Dinesh Perumanna, chairman of an action council that is supporting the strike, told The Hindu, “The government is citing a High Court order against regularisation of services of empanelled staff in the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation to deny these people their right. However, many others are being appointed on compassionate ground in other departments.”
P. Subrahmanyan, who also worked as a cleaning staff during the period, recalled that they did not have even the protective gear in the first two days.