Migrant workers hired by the West Bengal government to assist patients in COVID-19 wards at public hospitals protested on Monday outside the Health Department after some of them were released from duty because the number of patients has declined and the vaccine is here.
Some 680 migrant workers had been employed since July last year and deployed at designated COVID-19 hospitals across the state. They were contracted first for two months, then an additional three months and again for four more.
But on January 20, one of the hospitals issued marching orders to eight out of 10 such assistants who had served there. The others said they had been told their services too would be terminated from March 31.
Carrying posters that protested the "sudden layoff by hospitals" and appealing to the government for help, these Covid warriors submitted a memorandum to the Health Department, which has promised a response within the week.
Almost all the hospital assistants are migrant workers who returned to their villages in West Bengal from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Delhi and Tamil Nadu during the lockdown.
All of them had become infected in the peak of the pandemic on their return. None of them had jobs. So the government stepped forward with the scheme to employ them and get extra hands at hospitals full of patients.
Doctors and nurses at the hospitals were full of praise for the young people who would help in COVID-19 wards, feeding and helping patients and speaking with family members - a task medical staff had no time to undertake. They were given basic hospital training and took off the pressure on nurses by learning to change oxygen cylinders, check blood pressure, body temperature and a few other basic tasks. They were paid Rs 15,000 a month.
On August 15, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had given certificates recognising them as Covid warriors and thanked them for their contribution in the fight against the pandemic.