Aizawl: Mizoram is currently facing a manpower crunch amid rising COVID-19 due to an indefinite strike organised by various healthcare workers under the National Health Mission (NHM), highly placed sources said. 

The state government termed the strike “unfortunate” and said it would take action against the agitated staffers for not abiding by the rules and agreement. 

Responding to a call given by the National Health Mission Employees Union of Mizoram (NEUM), over 2,000 contractual employees under the NHM have stayed off their work since Monday demanding several benefits, including regularisation, regular pay, medical reimbursement and transfer allowance.

NEUM  president Malsawmtluanga Hauhnar said that the meeting of the union on Wednesday decided to continue with the strike after the meeting with top state officials on Tuesday remained inconclusive.

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Although the mass casual leave staged by the contractual employees of NHM was initially scheduled to be called off on Wednesday, it has been decided to continue indefinitely as the government fails to meet their demands, he said. 

Hauhnar, however, said that the union is willing to call off its strike if the government agrees to meet at least two of its demands.

He said that the healthcare workers were paid very irregularly for about 10 years due to unknown reasons especially when the state stopped receiving direct Central funding.

The state did not honour the Supreme Court ruling that employees under the Central Sponsored Scheme be paid regularly.

In July last year, the  NEUM also staged mass casual leave, which was called off after 3 days following an assurance from the state government to constitute a study group to assess the problems of the NHM healthcare workers.  Hauhnar said that the government did nothing to meet their demands and the study group’s report was neither tabled at the cabinet meeting even as a year had already passed. 

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Many of the 2,000 healthcare workers have been employed on a contract basis for more than 20 years, he said.

Hauhnar urged the government to take measures for the regularisation of the employees under the state government at least in a phased manner. Meanwhile, the state government said that it would take necessary action against the agitated workers for not obeying the rules and not respecting the contract agreement they signed with the government.

Speaking to reporters at a press conference here, health department principal secretary Esther Lalruatkimi said that the NHM staffers are recruited on a yearly basis as per the contract and their employment used to be extended if the government finds their performance satisfactory.

She said that there is no provision as such to regularise the workers. However, the government has constituted a study group to assess their problems and find the possibility to give better benefits to them. The official said that the government has already released salaries till May to the respective bank accounts of the agitated health workers and salaries for June are under process.

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Terming the incident unfortunate, Lalruatkimi said that this is not the right for a strike to be organised by only a group of CSS employees among many at a time when the state is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases. State personnel and administrative reforms department secretary, Lalramnghaka, who accompanied Lalruatkimi at the news conference, said that they have requested the agitated healthcare workers several times to understand the situation and complexities as regularisation and providing other benefits is a long process that could not be done in haste.
He said that the government is making efforts for the welfare of the employees.

The state government on Wednesday directed all concerned authorities to ensure that the agitated healthcare workers resume their duty from Thursday. On July 8, the government also banned strikes by healthcare workers under the Mizoram Essential Service Maintenance Act, 1990. 

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