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Ambulance Impasse Continues

An early resolution of the ongoing strike by employees of Emergency Response Office (ERO), the free 108 and 102 ambulance services operated by Hyderabad-based GVK EMRI which entered its ninth day on Thursday, appears remote with both the protesters and the company refusing to blink despite the inconvenience being caused to patients. Hundreds of striking employees, under the banner of All India Trade Union Congress and All Assam 108 Mrityunjoy Employees Association, on Thursday protested in front of National Health Mission (NHM) office at Christian Basti, leading to traffic snarls on the busy GS Road here. Even the ERO (the call center) that despatches the ambulances was not operating for the past week, much to the inconvenience of patients living in far-flung areas and those who are poor. There are 380 surface and seven boat ambulances under 108 deployed across the state while there are 316 surface ambulances under 102. Adoroni ambulance service is run by district hospitals though it is contracted to GVK. There are 235 Adoroni ambulances, a service which has to a large extent minimised the inconvenience caused by the 108 strike, a source said.

GVK company sources said the company was trying to work out a solution with the help of the government but Dispur has adopted a hands-off policy saying it was an issue between the employees and the company. “Employees are firm, GVK is saying employees are more keen on involving the government than talking to them prospects of an early resolution appears bleak,” a source associated with the health sector said. More than 3000 employees are on strike from September 5 to protest the non-implementation of service rules by the company, non-payment of pending annual increment dues for the past two years and abnormal hours of work. The Assam labour commissioner had issued notices to GVK EMRI regarding non-compliance with labour laws and asked the company to hold discussions with the association to sort out their problems. But the company adopted a non-compromising attitude because of which the employees had to resort to a strike in the emergency services, the employees said.

GVK company sources have alleged that the employees had assaulted some company officials following a discussion between them on Saturday. They also alleged that a section of ambulance drivers had kept the keys of the vehicles with them. The alleged assault took place after officials from the administration had left after deciding to resume the talks on Monday and a row erupted between the employees and the company representatives. A complaint was also filed at Gorchuk police station. The employees have denied allegations of assault. The fire ambulance service falls under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) and GVK has termed the strike illegal. The company has warned the EROs to resume duty, failing which they tried to recruit new staff. But the present employees have allegedly threatened the applicants. The president of the association, Pranjal Jyoti Saikia, denied the charge, saying they had only explained the situation to the applicants and warned them about a similar outcome. – Telegraph India