Vaccinators go on strike ahead of the polio eradication campaign

The workers have been demanding permanent jobs for the last eight years.


Our Correspondent July 11, 2012

KARACHI: The province-wide polio campaign, which is expected to start from July 16, appears to be in the doldrums already, as 700 employees of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) announced on Wednesday that they would boycott the campaign.

The announcement came after nearly 200 GAVI workers were greeted with baton-wielding police when they tried to march towards the Chief Minister House in the city’s elusive red zone. The police also reportedly used tear gas shelling and water cannons to disperse the protesters. Vaccinators Welfare Association (VWA) Sindh president Nabi Baksh Jalbani and ten others were arrested by the police and taken to the Artillery Maidan police station.

VWA chairman Junaid Ahmed Shah told The Express Tribune that the vaccinators have been demanding permanent jobs for the past eight years. He said that they were originally hired by a Japanese NGO, which used to pay 60 per cent of their salary, with the government paying the rest. However, the NGO’s involvement gradually decreased and the government was ultimately left to take care of the entire body. The current monthly salary of each employee is Rs7,000.

The GAVI workers had been protesting outside the Programme Director Office at I I Depot near Jinnah hospital for the last three days. However, the situation escalated when, according to the vaccinators, the police tried to remove their camp forcefully on Wednesday. Police officials, meanwhile, said that they were forced to act after the workers had tried stopping a van carrying polio vaccines from leaving the premises.

Shah was optimistic that polio vaccinators from rural Sindh would join their protest after witnessing the police’s attitude towards them.

“The health minister and his secretary had promised us that our demands would be met, but the finance department said that it did not have enough funds.”

Sindh health secretary Aftab Khatri however, was unimpressed by the protesters’ threat. “If they refuse to work, we will hire 700 more people, which would be even more cheaper for us,” said Khatri.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.

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