Nurses of Faridabad on the warpath

May 11, 2012

Joint Press Statement of the Delhi Nurses Welfare Association, Workers Unity Centre, and the Centre for Struggling Women

NURSES OF FARIDABAD ON WAR PATH
RAMPANT EXPOITATION OF MALYALI NURSES
PRIVATE HOSPITALS INDULGE IN A RANGE OF ILLEGAL PRACTICES

10.05.2012

Following a 14 day strike notice, 300 nurses of Asian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIMS), Faridabad, have been sitting on strike since 7th May. Down the road, 140 nurses of another private hospital, QRG Central Hospital, are also on strike. The majority of these nurses are from far flung parts of Kerela, and have joined the super-speciality hospital in the hope of earning salaries that will help them survive in the city, and also assist in paying back education loans they have taken to pursue their nursing degrees. Unfortunately, like other private hospitals, Asian Hospital and QRG Central are misusing the nurses’ compulsion to pay off student loans to employ them on the basis of extremely low wages.

As of now the nurses of AIMS are paid a paltry sum of Rs. 11,000 from which the hospital management cuts PF, etc. Due to this, the nurses get only some Rs. 9000 in hand—an amount which is way below the Rs. 42,000 earned by government hospital nurses. Ironically, this salary package has been in force since the inception of the hospital, i.e., for two and a half years. The nurses, therefore, complained that despite putting in loyal service from the time of the hospital’s inception, their experience and hard work has not led to any pay hike. In the case of QRG Central hospital, many nurses are getting even less than their colleagues in AIMS (Faridabad).

In Delhi and NCR region where rents are high, such salaries hardly enable the nurses to make ends meet. It is shocking that hospitals which earn huge profits on a yearly basis are unwilling to reward their nursing staff a fair wage and regular salary increments. In fact, several private hospitals like AIMS have gone to the extent of deliberately forcing a section of the nurses to join as trainees from the first date of their service. The trainees are then conveniently paid wages as low as Rs 5000, despite the fact that they are fully qualified nurses who do not need to undergo any sort of “apprenticeship/training”. While addressing the striking nurses, activists from the women’s organization, Centre For Struggling Women (CSW), Workers’ Unity Centre (WUCI), and Nurses Welfare Association congratulated the nurses for risking everything and coming out to fight on their demands. The CSW member argued that the nurses’ salaries should be increased regularly on the basis of the hospital’s profit margin, and that a wage-board should be constituted for the nursing occupation. The wage board would ensure some regulation of the salaries paid in private hospitals.

The other grave problem highlighted by the striking nurses is the manner in which they are assigned extra duties for which they are not paid adequately. For example, after performing eight hours of duty, the nurses are often forced to perform a subsequent eight hours of duty. “Imagine what kind of patient-care we can do when we are on our feet for 16 hours straight”, explained one of the striking nurses (who requested anonymity). The management of private hospitals find it easy to arm-twist the nurses for double duties due to the simple fact that nurses are desperate to pay off student loans, and because of the sheer clout private capital exercises in the health sector. With private hospitals outnumbering government ones, the management of private hospitals find it easy to keep wages low across the board, and to overwork the nurses in the absence of government regulation. With little difference in the wage scales prevalent in private hospitals, most nurses are unable to challenge the adverse conditions of their employment. Furthermore, the aforementioned private hospitals exercise a skewed nurse-to-patient ratio. In violation of the World Health Organization’s norms, the nurses in Asian Hospital (AIMS) are assigned up to 3 to 4 ICU patients (the WHO recommended ratio being 1 nurse to 1 or 2 ICU patients). “And even after performing double duties back to back, we don’t receive adequate compensation,” said another AIMS nurse.

What is most disturbing is the way in which the issue of the striking nurses are being skirted continuously. For example, despite being intimated of the nurses’ issues, the Deputy Labour Commissioner and Labour Office have failed to intervene. Even after communicating their demands to the Chief Minister, no intervention or probe by the CM’s office has followed, thereby once again exposing the pro-management stance of the Haryana Government. As expected, the local thana has been actively involved in harassing the young nurses, and has forcefully pushed the strikers to a distance beyond the stipulated 100 meters issued via a court order. As usual the state machinery is quick to respond to the calls and communiques of the hospitals’ management, and lethargic, if not aggressively anti-worker when contacted by affected workers.

Furthermore, the management of AIMS has resorted to several illegal practices like replacing the striking nurses with nursing students who are not qualified to practice. This measure is not only illegal but also detrimental to the interests of the admitted patients. In addition to this, the hospital management has also indulged in filthy practices like sending bouncers late at night to the nurses’ hostel on 8th May. The authorities have also put up notices with the names of some 70 nurses who are supposed to vacate the hostel with immediate effect. The management has so far suspended 16 nurses and terminated the services of 12. While the management has given a verbal assurance of reinstating the nurses who have been suspended and terminated, it has categorically refused to reemploy five nurses on whom they have slapped legal cases. These five nurses have been the more active and vocal participants of the struggle. Clearly then, rather than negotiating with the nurses, the Asian Hospital management seems adamant in crushing the legitimate voice of the young Malyali nurses. Meanwhile, the Director of the QRG Central Hospital continues to scoff at the demands for a pay hike by his nursing staff. He has gone on record stating that the nurses behave “like cattle and don’t use their brains” when deciding about whether to sit on strike! As usual he overplayed the role of “outsiders”, whom he claims “misguide the nurses to agitate”.

Standing up to the various intimidation tactics of the hospitals’ management, the nurses of both hospitals have decided to continue their strike till all the striking nurses are re-employed. With nothing to lose, the nurses are standing together in unity.

Thankamma Ravindran
Delhi Nurses Welfare Association

Lailamma Peter
Delhi Nurses Welfare Association

Alok Kumar
Workers Unity Centre

Maya John
Centre For Struggling Women
Ph: 9350272637