Around 3000 contract nurses in Chennai, who have been protesting for the last three days, called off their agitation on Wednesday. This after the Madras High Court ordered the striking nurses to call off their protests immediately and to return to work on Thursday. Calling the protest “illegal”, the High Court directed nurses to hold talks with the government.
Earlier in the day, the Directorate of Medical and Rural Health Services (DMS) in Chenani’s Teynampet resembled a fortress. Hundreds of police personnel were stationed outside to ensure outsiders, including the media do not enter its premises.
This as over 3000 contract nurses, dressed in their crisp, white uniforms, were on strike demanding permanent jobs, higher wages and eight-hour shifts.
The court’s intervention comes after the government and the police allegedly attempted to thwart their protest.
One such attempt by authorities to allegedly arm-twist nurses was to cut off facilities such as toilets and water supply at the protest site. “There is only one washroom for more than 3000 contract nurses, they have shut the canteens also. Last night, they locked us inside and there was no proper drinking water facility, we were not even allowed to use the restroom,” said Gayathri, a nurse who has been part of the protests.
She also alleged that police had threatened protesting nurses, asking them to vacate DMS premises by 6am on Wednesday.
A policeman, however, told TNM that they were posted there to protect the nurses. “There is such huge number of nurses inside. We are just trying to keep them safe. If the crowd increases inside, it will become a problem for them. They are allowed to come out and go back again,” he said.
The media, which was initially restrained from entering DMS to cover the nurses’ strike, were subsequently allowed following protests.
The strike began on Monday morning when at 4am, around 4000 nurses entered the DMS premises.
According to the Times of India, the Tamil Nadu Health Department had appointed 11,000 contract nurses through the state’s Medical Recruitment Board.
“We were recruited through a Medical Recruitment Board. The government had told us that we need to work a minimum of two years under the consolidated pay. But the problem is that the Medical Recruitment Board also hires doctors, radiographers and other medical people but only nurses are being given consolidated pay of Rs. 7700, everyone else gets time pay scale,” says a representative of Tamil Nadu Government MRB Welfare Association.
Nurses, he says, are now demanding that the government give them time-scale pay. He explains, “Time scale pay means we need to be paid what is being given to people who are permanent, after the pay commission, they are getting about Rs 45,000.”
Despite talks with officials from the Health Department, they remained inconclusive.
"About 32 representatives from different districts had met the Director of Medical Services, Director of Public Health and Director of Medical Education but they told us that they do not have the power to provide time pay scale. We told them that we want to meet officials who have the power to help us," said a representative from the nurses’ association.
On Tuesday, representatives from different districts met Health Minister Vijayabhaskar, who assured them that steps would be taken to increase their salaries. While many nurses decided to temporarily call off the protests, other refused, noting that they would continue protesting until their demands are met. “About 100 nurses from Dharmapuri district left the protest but most of the others decided to continue the protest in the premises,” said Parvathi, a protesting nurse.