The drivers say GVK staff insist they meet them only after having a bath every time they return from ferrying sick passengers

Coronavirus: Airport ambulance drivers are sitting ducks for COVID-19

By Diwakar Sharma | Mumbai

Updated: Mar 09, 2020, 12:10 IST

Drivers of airport ambulances ferrying suspected virus carriers to quarantine say they have not been given any protective gear since outbreak

About three dozen contractual labourers working as ambulance drivers and their assistants at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) fire station have raised concern over not being provided protective gear to handle the suspected Coronavirus patients landing in the city and ferry them to hospital. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, they have been doing the job without facemasks and hand sanitisers.

One of the ambulance drivers, Santosh Kharat told mid-day that since the Coronavirus outbreak, the passengers suspected to have contracted the virus are sent to Kasturba Hospital in Chinchpokli in the ambulance provided by GVK, the company that operates the Mumbai airport.

"Since the COVID-19 outbreak, all passengers coming to the city are screened at the airport and those suspected to be infected, are sent to Kasturba Hospital in Chinchpokli. The drivers and assistant drivers of the ambulance assist them (infected passengers) to board the vehicle and drop them off at the hospital. Some of them even cough and sneeze while we travel with them. It's an infectious disease and chances of getting infected are very high in our case if we do not wear protective gear and take precautionary measures," Kharat added.

He further said, "We have not been given protective gear like masks and hand sanitisers. How will we combat COVID-19 without safeguarding health workers like us who come in direct contact with infected patients on a daily basis? Our life is at stake. We are contractual labourers of Humancare World Wide Private Limited and our salary ranges from R10,000 and R16,000 per month."

Another contractual labourer, Sameer Kashte said that a couple of workers had sent a message on the official WhatsApp group of the company — Ambulance Crew — but the officials did not respond. "The message was sent on March 5 asking for masks and hand sanitisers but the seniors have not acknowledged it," Kashte said.

Meanwhile, assistant driver, Mahesh Kakad said, "The company is not giving us proper facilities. As per our contract, we are supposed to work only for 16 days in a month (12 hours each day). But our supervisor forces us to work 20 days a month. The company higher-ups don't listen to our problems and have also not provided safety gear since the outbreak of the virus. We are working under immense pressure. There is threat to our lives as we directly come in contact with the infected patients."

'We are ill-treated'
Kharat also mentioned that they are ill-treated by the GVK staff as well. "Whenever we return after dropping the infected patients at the hospital, they taunt us and even ask us to stay away from them. We are allowed to meet them only after we have taken a bath," alleged Kharat, who added that their employer had not even secured their job through a health policy.

"Our contractual job does not include any health policy. So, if we contract the deadly virus, who will bear the medical expenses? We have written a letter to the Airport Authority of India and its Human Resource department requesting them to at least provide us with protective gear so that we don't get infected. We are helping the airport and the country to save infected passengers but our health is not being taken care of," he added.

The other side
The supervisor of the labourers, Dharam Prajapati, said, "We have been apprised of the situation at the airport and the company seniors have been informed about the demand for masks and hand sanitisers. Hopefully by Monday, all the drivers and assistant drivers will be given masks and sanitiser to keep them protected."

Even after repeated attempts to contact the Mumbai International Airport Limited spokesperson, he was unavailable for comment.

Rs 10K-Rs 16K
Salary range of the contractual labourers

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