Already facing dangerous conditions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s care workers are now confronting a new hazard—deadly fires. Several blazes have ignited hospitals across India, and health workers are demanding accountability and new safety measures.
The Association of Healthcare Workers and Technicians (ACT) , the union representing dialysis technicians in over 50 facilities in the national capital region, has written to the Minister of Health calling for immediate fire audits of all hospitals.
“Our hospitals and care centers are overcrowded. Workers are exhausted, and with the utter lack of attention to safety, we aren’t only risking our lives due to the pandemic but also due to an unsafe working environment,” says Man Singh, a dialysis technician and member of ACT.
The union has been raising these concerns especially since the passing of sweeping 2020 reform to national health and safety laws that workers say fails to adequately regulate workplace safety.
In addition to stepped-up implementation of health and safety regulations, ACT is demanding the creation of union-led health and safety committees and trained safety representatives. This ongoing crisis shows how urgent it is for employers to cooperate with workers to evaluate and implement solutions to jobsite hazards.
Workers also need a formal structure to report concerns without fear of employer retaliation. The new act does require health and safety inspections, but ACT members say regulators rarely—if ever—inspect their facilities, illustrating just how deficient the new code is for workers.
“Care workers are facing the most extreme conditions,” says Rajendra Acharya, UNI Asia and Pacific Regional Secretary, “with the health care system in full collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, workers should not have to face fire hazards.”
Without the Indian government stepping up to protect health workers—and greater accountability from employers—there will be long-term impacts to individual workers and the already short-staffed healthcare system as a whole. A significant number of workers may become sick and unable to work; others may experience burnout, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other trauma that may cause them to leave the sector. Last year the care industry saw a sharp rise in health care workers’ deaths. Without action now, the union warns, 2021 is set to be even worse.
Read the letter below.