Herd immunity was sold as way out of the pandemic. What happened?
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Gangtok: Pharmaceutical companies in Sikkim and their workers have worked tirelessly to ensure the supply and demand of medicines across the country are met.
But, aside from the noble deed, there are also COVID 19 cases coming up in these pharmaceutical companies, resulting in protests among the workers. Since the May 16 lockdown, as many as three companies have seen their employees protest, questioning the safety measures ensured by the company.

The casual workers, mostly locals, have been complaining how despite workers testing positive, there are no safety measures in place. Earlier this month, a pharma worker from Zydus Pharmaceutical Company had highlighted, “My room partner developed symptoms but he was sent home, instead of the hospital or some proper form of testing. Moreover, the day when he is missing work due to illness related to COVID, he is being marked absent and a portion of his salary being cut. We even lost our bus driver to COVID 19 on May 19, three days before his death, he was still working. He had come in contact with almost 400 plus employees as there is no earmarked bus for the workers, everyone takes the same bus at different times to reach their homes. But, the company declined from sanitizing the buses, they denied identifying the primary contacts. We demanded that the company must be shut for a day to sanitize the entire premises but even that didn’t happen”.

Furthermore, the Sikkim government initially asserted on 50% workforce in pharmaceutical companies, but amidst the pressure of the protest as well as from the company, it revoked the notification and declared that pharmaceutical companies must work with full capacity.

To curtail the spread, State Labour Department issued a notification on May 28, which stated, “The Pharmaceutical companies shall as far as possible, make arrangement for accommodation of workers within the company premises or if not feasible then by hiring rented buildings or hotels outside the premises. The companies must also establish a dedicated covid care centre for the care of COVID positive workers by converting guest houses of companies or if not feasible then by hiring private buildings or hotels with dedicated Medical officer and supporting paramedical staff. The centre should be well equipped with an ambulance, oxygen cylinders, COVID 19 medicines and immunity-boosting foods. In case of severe medical emergencies, the positive workers will be shifted to STNM Hospital and Central Referral Hospital”.

Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay also backed the decision of the labour department. He stated, “Pharmaceutical companies are noticing the spread of the virus, all employees there or in hydroelectricity plant, are involved in essential works. They are making medicines, hence, we inclined on 50% workforce. But there was a lot of pressure as there is a huge demand and supply of medicines going from Sikkim. Hence we revoked the decision to allow the workforce to full capacity. Every pharmaceutical company must make their own COVID barrack, they must rent a building. In Mamring, which has many such companies, there are employees spread in rented houses. The company must take a building and from there they must only go to the factory. Companies must ensure testing and medicines for their employees if they test positive. Our citizen must not get infected, as they are spread in a wide area for residential purpose. They can declare their own containment zone, they must also make COVID care centre, they must run the same with all medicines”.

Furthermore, Sikkim CM also announced a hike of Rs 300 per day extra wages for pharmaceutical companies.

On similar grounds, Sikkim Chief Minister also urged Melli Check Post officials to allow company workers to come to Sikkim, though only those involved in essential services. He stated, “Local residents are also coming to Sikkim amidst the lockdown from other States. They must be advised of home isolation, but non-locals will not be allowed. There are few companies and their employees have been allowed including those involved in Sikkim Garib Awas Yojana which needs to be completed by March 2022. They have been given relaxation. MGNREGA workers will also be allowed. But, companies wanting to bring employees must ensure COVID care centre development”.

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