Protests
Notice for the strike was given to more than 2,000 hospitals, and operations were affected partially on Tuesday.
Sreekesh Raveendran Nair

Thousands of nurses affiliated to the United Nurses Association (UNA) on Tuesday took out a march to the Government Secretariat, warning that they will abstain from work if their demand for better wages was not fulfilled.

The protest began from Martyrdom’s column at Palayam, hardly a kilometre away from the Secretariat.

The decision by the nurses’ association to go on strike from July 17 and stage a hunger protest till demands are met was taken on Tuesday evening. Accordingly, they gave notice for the strike to more than 2,000 hospitals.

Nurses working in various private hospitals across the state, affiliated to UNA and Indian Nurses Association have been protesting since June, urging the hospital managements to give a basic pay of Rs 20,000 per month.

UNA took out the massive march as they didn’t accept the decision by the government’s Industrial Relations Committee, which on Monday fixed varying basic pay for hospitals depending on their bed strengths.

The Committee held a meeting on Monday as the earlier discussion by the government with the private hospital managements had failed. Nurses allege that the government’s move of allocating differing basic pay, was an attempt to betray them.

"We demand Rs 20,000 as the basic pay for nurses working in all hospitals apart from other benefits. Bed strength of hospitals can be taken into consideration for deciding benefits, but using it to fix the basic pay is absurd," a male nurse from Thrissur told The News Minute.

The Committee on Monday decided to raise the minimum salary of nurses in private hospitals from Rs 8,775 to Rs 17,200. A per the decision, the pay for hospitals with 300 to 500 beds will be Rs 20,980. For the hospitals with bed strength of 500 to 800, the salary was fixed at Rs 22,040. The pay for nurses working in hospitals with a bed strength of more than 800 beds was stipulated at Rs 23,760.

"How many hospitals in Kerala have more than 800 beds, only a few. The government has betrayed us by not increasing the money we can take home, but simply played with numbers," nurses from Ernakulam said.

The nurses' associations are demanding average salary of Rs 27,800, as mandated by the Supreme Court. They also want the Veera Kumar report recommendations to be implemented which fixed Rs 20,000 as the basic pay for nurses working in all private hospitals. “In the hospital I work in, the appointment letter showed the takeaway salary as Rs 20,000, but we only get Rs 10,000 in hand,” another nurse said.

The nurses contended that the lowest wage for a daily wage labourer in the state is Rs 900 per day, and asked why nurses who are trained professionals don’t get even that.

Office bearers of UNA said that the salary fixed by the committee won’t come to even Rs 700 per day. UNA state president Jasmine Shah said that if any of the hospital management dares to take action against the nursing staff who take part in the protest, all the nurses will come onto the street. As nurses from all districts in the state took part in the protest on Tuesday, the functioning of many of the hospitals was partially affected.

According to UNA, 90% of nurses of private hospitals who have studied General Medicine, get Rs 8,750 per month whereas BSc. Nursing graduates get a monthly salary of Rs 9,250. It costs at least Rs five lakh to complete a BSc. Nursing course in the state at any private institute.

Most of the hospitals had agreed to hike the wages as per an agreement reached by the government in 2013, but they failed to keep their promise. 

All pics by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair