Over 1,800 staff of National Health Mission (NHM), Nagaland started their "cease work" protest from Sunday demanding regularization of service and parity of pay with health workers even as the state government grappled with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.
NHM employees comprise ambulance drivers, laboratory technicians, nurses, dental, AYUSH and allopathic doctors.
President of NHM Employees Association, Nagaland (NEAN) Dr Shasinlo Magh said the NHM employees in the state numbering 1,850 who are engaged by the Health and Family Welfare Department decided to go on an indefinite cease work from Sunday till their three-point demands are fulfilled.
He said the demands include regularisation of NHM employees, pay parity with state health staff of the same rank and all basic employees benefit in line with state health employees.
A top official of the health department said the NEAN leaders have been called for discussions and the matter would be resolved.
Asked how the department was managing the present COVID-19 situation in the absence NHM employees, the official said it is difficult, but some contingency arrangements are being made by the district task forces, wherever the NHM employees are engaged.
Five more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Nagaland on Sunday, taking the total number of infections in the state to 168.
Mission Director of NHM, Nagaland, Dr Kevichusa Medikhru in a letter to the NEAN president said: "We are all aware that there is a shortage of manpower in the department to combat with the current pandemic situation and we acknowledge the services rendered by the NHM employees not only at this period of time but also in the past".
Asserting that the department is willing to give an impartial hearing to the demands of the NHM employees, Dr Medikhru urged them to come forward for an open discussion so that their grievances can be redressed. The department has already initiated steps to address the issue, he said.
Being fully aware of the need to combat and contain the COVID-19 pandemic as the number of cases in the state was increasing over the time, the mission director requested the agitating employees to immediately call off the cease work protest in the interest of public service so that together they could mitigate the pandemic.
NEAN president Dr Shasinlo Magh said: "We did not want to take such a drastic step at this crucial period of COVID-19 pandemic but the decision was taken considering the June 11 decision of the state Cabinet to regularise services of contract workers appointed by the health department."
To meet the shortfall of health workers during in the fight against COVID-19, the state Cabinet on June 11 had approved the creation of 53 posts of specialist doctors for the 11 district hospitals and 143 posts of staff nurse for those facilities.
Magh said NHM employees had been providing services since the inception of the mission in the state in 2005-06. "We will go ahead with the agitation till our three-point demands are fulfilled," he said.
"We are concerned about the health aspects of the general public, including the returnees, COVID-19 patients and also other sick and needy people. We regret our cease work," he said.