In the frontline of COVID-19 battle but underpaid and overworked: TN nurses speak out

Nurses in private hospitals allege that their allowances have been cut while contract nurses in government hospitals are demanding better salary.
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Nurse working
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Nurses in private and government hospitals, who are among the frontline warriors in the battle against COVID-19, have alleged that they are struggling without adequate wages in Tamil Nadu. While the nurses in a few private hospitals in the state are demanding that their institutions provide salary and allowances without any cuts, the contract nurses in government hospitals rue over the low pay provided to them when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the country.

Salary cuts and no allowances in private hospitals

It has come to light that many private hospitals in Tamil Nadu have started to cut salaries of permanent and contract nurses. Even those treating COVID-19 patients are forced to undergo salary cuts, allege the nursing staff.  

According to them, there are permanent and contract nurses who receive salaries between Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000. However, after the lockdown was imposed to control the spread of the coronavirus, they say that they have been forced to undergo a 15-50% salary cut, with the hospitals citing low patients’ occupancy as the reason.

Kamal* works for eight hours a day and does three shifts a week at a private hospital. “I've been forced to undergo a pay cut of 15% and by this, I’ll be losing a minimum of Rs 5,000. We have not been provided with overtime allowance or night shift allowance and we are not even being given biscuits during the night shift,” he says.

“The hospital is expecting all the workers to come for duty but with no travel options available, how can people from other districts come to Chennai? They don’t understand this and they are straightaway reducing 50% of the salary of the nurses who don’t turn up. Even if the nurses don’t report for duty, their work is being carried out by other nurses. The hospital is cutting salary for those who are unable to come but is not paying the others extra either," he adds.

The nurses from private hospitals staged a protest on Tuesday, demanding that the hospital authorities disburse their full salary amount without cuts. The nurses also demanded for overtime and night shift allowances and other grants to be reinstated. 

Raj, Secretary of Global Nurses Association, says, “We have been receiving complaints from a couple of hospitals that the nurses are forced to undergo salary cuts or even told to resign owing to losses. However, we are trying our best to help the nurses retain their jobs with the intervention of the Indian Medical Association.”

Wage hike pending for contract nurses in GHs

The contract nurses in government hospitals are also a troubled lot as they say that they have not received a hike or been made permanent since 2015. The workers were promised permanent jobs in two years when they were hired in 2015. However, even after five years, they say that they have not been absorbed into the service or given a hike.

According to a report, the Madras High Court in 2018 had responded to a PIL filed by contract nurses, and directed the Tamil Nadu government to pay Rs 14,000 with Rs 500 as hike every year against the salary of Rs 7,700 that they were getting at the time.

However, the contract nurses say that they are currently receiving only Rs 14,000 per month and haven't received any hike for the past two years.  “We had faith in the judgment and waited for the government to provide us relief. However, even during COVID-19 days, we are not receiving a hike. We are fighting to get equal wages like that of our colleagues who are permanent employees. The contract nurses are also given duty at COVID-19 wards just as permanent employees, but when it comes to wages, we are not paid properly,” says a contract nurse at a government hospital in Chennai.

On the demands put forth before the government, Subin, General Secretary, Tamil Nadu Government MRB Nurses Empowerment Association, says, “We have two demands for the government. The government should provide equal pay for equal work and they should absorb us as permanent nurses. We have been fighting for this, and we will continue to fight till the government meets the demands.” 

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