Essential workers share challenges of managing QCs

Morung Express News
Kohima | June 21 

Apart from frontline workers, several services during the pandemic have often gone unnoticed and underappreciated. One such example is that of the essential workers currently employed as ‘cleaners’ at quarantine centres (QCs) in Kohima.

Confronted with a number of challenges, many of these ‘cleaners’ expressed resentment that they have been given the short end of the stick as they have been discharging duties that were not part of the deal when they were ‘recruited.’

Besides cleaning the QCs, the ‘cleaners’ claim that they also have to struggle to maintain a delicate balance between seeking redressal for complaints by residents, and following orders of their higher ups. This, compounded with issues like the absence of a management/administrative head in QCs, lack of coordination, unruly residents, food shortage as well as the risk involved in providing essential services to occupants of the centres, have resulted in feelings of being ‘duped’ by the government. 

During an interaction with The Morung Express, one cleaner at a QC in Kohima claimed that during their ‘recruitment,’ they were informed that their job was only to clean the centres. 

"We were told that there will be zero contact with the residents. But we've been made to manage the whole centre. And it's just like running a hotel without any of the comforts. Many of the young workers get frustrated."

None of the cleaners who spoke with The Morung Express wished to be named. 

Their days begin as early as 6:00 am, cleaning the centre followed by serving breakfast to the residents which takes at least two or more hours in the bigger quarantine centres. 

"When the food is delivered, we have to distribute the food packs calling out the names in each floor. If the food arrives at 1:00 pm, by the time we finish distributing in all the floors it's already 4:00 pm. Some residents who missed their food pack will complain and we have to rush and deliver. It's a tiring task. We don't get time to rest.  We can't even have our food on time or in peace,” one of them said.

“Sometimes our work even extends to 2 am in the morning especially when there are new returnees arriving and we have to go and check and arrange the rooms.”

Unruly and disobedient residents remain a big challenge. “We are trying to give our best services but there are some who just don't obey the rules,” stated a cleaner.

“All rules apply to the residents but some of them do not listen. We are instructed to lock the violators. In turn the residents threaten us saying that they'll file a case against us. We are only following the orders from the higher ups,” said a cleaner from another Kohima QC.

Another cleaner mentioned that there have been several occasions where people at the Control Room do not pick the calls of the residents, thus leaving the cleaners to bear the brunt of complaints. 

The cleaners also expressed frustration at the lack of coordination among the medical teams stationed at the OCs on roster system. They claimed that there are different rules with every new team. "We have to constantly update the new team all over again.”

“Some will strictly instruct us to use our PPEs while another team will instruct us that it is not necessary except for gloves and masks. At first, parcel deliveries for the residents were allowed, then another team came and disallowed. In the meantime, the residents will complain to us,” they stated.

Unequal distribution of PPE supplies has also been reported, as cleaners explained that PPEs especially gloves; tend to get damaged quickly. "If we go and ask for another pair of gloves, they question us, as if we are doing some side business with the equipments,” said one.

Insufficient food is one major challenge for the cleaners as well as residents.

"We've been given food which we really appreciate but it becomes difficult when the food is not sufficient,” one of the cleaners said. There have been instances when they had to give up their own food following complaints by residents over the insufficient amount of food in the packages.

"We all know that when someone is on an empty stomach it is very easy to lose one's temper. It might seem like a small matter but sometimes it becomes difficult. We don't want to complain all the time, neither are we asking for special treatment, but it is a request to be fed decently,” said another. 

When the cleaners were recruited, they were reportedly informed that all their essential necessities will be provided. "But when we came, there was no provision as such except for a water boiler. The medical staff usually shares their facilities and other essentials with us,” one cleaner informed.

The lack of management is another issue where the cleaners in some centres have requested for the exact number of residents, but are rarely updated.

Further another cleaner expressed concern over the lack of information on positive cases in their own centres. “We used to be informed of the positive cases but now we are hardly being updated. That is the risky part, since we distribute the food to each of their rooms,” he said.

“We have no idea how long our services will be required. They say they'll update but we haven't received any updates. Sometimes it's disappointing, because we are risking our lives here,” one of them stated.

“Many people think that we might be earning lots of allowances but there is no other extra allowances except for the salary fixed for us,” informed another.

While acknowledging that the pandemic has posed new challenges to everyone, the cleaners hope that the higher ups are trying to make adjustments. They called for an approach where decisions are made keeping in mind those on the ground dealing with the everyday challenges of managing this pandemic.