The plight of health workers

There appears to be a national malaise when it comes to dealing fairly with daily wage health workers

Editorial April 27, 2016
Daily-wagers of dengue project protesting on Murree Road. PHOTO: AGHA MEHROZ/EXPRESS

There appears to be a national malaise when it comes to dealing fairly with the many thousands of health workers employed on a daily wage. Simply put and despite having contracts defining their jobs and what they will be paid — the wages all too often fail to appear. These workers, often women, are hired for vaccination and other health campaigns and are a key component of mother-and-child primary healthcare. They do their jobs often under difficult circumstances and some, particularly those working on polio eradication, pay with their lives for the service they give. Their courage is rarely recognised or honoured. The latest group to protest at not being paid and the sacking of trained workers has taken place in Rawalpindi. They had been hired by the district government to participate in the anti-dengue drive.

That was eight months ago and the protesters claim that they have not been paid a rupee since being hired and have now been discharged, penniless. Not so, says an unnamed health official who claimed that the money had been paid into the workers bank accounts — which begs the question as to why bother to protest if, as is being said, they have been paid? The reasons why daily wagers such as these find themselves in a non-payment trap are many, ranging from inept bureaucracies to corrupt officials who hold back monies in order that it can accrue interest which they then skim off the top, a highly lucrative and widespread scam. The workers themselves are not unionised and lack any form of representation or collective bargaining mechanism and they take the jobs in an effort to make ends meet. Some of those currently protesting are trained health workers who suddenly found themselves jobless as the local government failed in its promise to regularise their posts — again a not uncommon occurrence. Poor public health services are the norm rather than the exception. Penalising those that deliver the most basic of primary care elevates the risk for everybody. Pay them their dues.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 28th,  2016.

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