Health unions raise issue of protection for health workers to the Indian National Human Rights Commission

In the face of what appears to be a relentless spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across India, PSI health sector affiliates advocated with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for improved protection of health workers’ rights.

In late July, the NHRC set up an 11-member committee to investigate human rights violations related to the Covid pandemic. Towards preventing and correcting such violations, the committee holds a mandate to develop advisories to central, state and local governments, which includes reporting on the rights violations of healthcare personnel and staff.

In line with this, PSI organised an online consultation on August 5, 2020 and connected key Committee members, including Dr. Srinath Reddy in charge of the area of health workers, with eight unions representing health workers from both private and public health facilities and coming from across India’s administrative levels: central, state, municipal. Community health workers – Anganwadis and ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) – also joined the consultation.

The unions that participated in the process were: Hind Mahila Sabha (HMS); Indian National Municipal and Local Bodies Workers Federation (INMLBWF); Karnataka State Government Employees Association (KSGEA); Mumbai Mahanaga Karmachari Mahasangh (MMKM); Nagpur Municipal Corporation Employees Union (NMCEU); National Organisation of Government Employees (NOGE); Tamil Nadu Government Officials Union (TNGOU); and United Nurses Association (UNA).

Following the consultation, PSI submitted a detailed report, and recommendations, on eight areas of concern among health workers as they respond to the Covid-19 pandemic:

(1) Lack of adequate personal protective equipment (PPE)

(2) Inadequate leave, excessive working hours, denial of rest

(3) No access to healthcare, testing, and compensation

(4) Lack of adequate boarding, accommodations, transportation, and nutritious food

(5) Denial of wages, overtime pay and incentives

(6) Physical and psychological violence, including sexual harassment, and need for mental health support

(7) Unsafe work environment, lack of training, health facilities violating quarantine and infection control protocols

(8) Denial of freedom of association

While calling out hospital management who refuse to address these issues, the unions warn of negative impacts to public health as repression of health workers’ rights leads to diminished capacity to curb the spread of the virus, and call on government to direct the hospitals’ management to engage in social dialogue and seek labour conciliation at once.

The unions put the spotlight on how precarious work – short-term, informal employment – makes workers under these arrangements vulnerable to Covid due to lack of access to either adequate PPEs or some Covid-care programmes. Anganwadis, ASHAs, contract workers in both public and private health facilities, all suffer the consequences of informal and short-term employment.

Download the full submission here.

Violation of Health Workers' Rights During Covid-19 Pandemic: A Submission to India's National Human Rights Commission