The nursing staff had complained of harassment by officials of the consultancy which recruited them, when they asked for salaries.

Kerala IIST shuts down medical unit after women staff demand salaries complain of abuse Tanveer Ali, Wikimedia Commons
news Controversy Friday, June 30, 2017 - 10:00

Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST), Valiamala in Thiruvananthapuram, shut down its medical unit allegedly in retaliation against the nursing staff who had complained of harassment by officials of the consultancy which recruited them.

It all began in November 2016 when the staff employed on contract basis demanded salary that was delayed, from Gautam Detective and Security Services (GDSS) Private Limited - the consultancy which employed them at the medical unit. 

Raj Kumar and Vijaya Kumar of the consultancy then began to threaten the women nursing staff of the unit and even abused them, said a complaint filed by the medical staff to the registrar of IIST, A Chandrasekar, in November 2016. “They used to call female staff repeatedly between 8 pm and 11 pm, while busy attending patients and intimidated us using abusive language,” said the complaint which sought a change in the contract of the consultancy.

Nisha UN, Lekshmi KS and Soumya Nair RT filed separate complaints with the registrar saying that they were threatened with dismissal when they demanded their salaries that had been delayed and also faced abusive language over the phone.

“On November 13, 2016, I called GDSS field officer Vijaya Kumar to ask why the salary was getting delayed. He threatened to terminate me. He made calls again and again in the evening on the same day and repeatedly threatened me. Then I called Raj Kumar who is regional manager to explain what had happened. On November 17, Vijaya Kumar called my colleague Nisha and told her that he won’t allow me to continue in IIST. At night, Rajkumar called on the land phone and spoke in an abusive language,” as per the complaint filed by Soumya.

The complaint filed by Lekshmi said that Vijaya Kumar called on the landline of the medical unit not only to threaten legal action against her but also warn of dismissal.

Lekshmi, who worked for four years at IIST, in a complaint to the State Women’s Commission filed in February this year, sought immediate action for the protection of women staff of the unit. Other nursing staff including Soorya S Nair, Sujith SS, Greeshma Babu, Aiswarya BR, Suganda Babu, Shiju KV and Biju Kumar supported the complainants.

On November 18, 2016, the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) of IISST launched an enquiry into the complaints filed by the Nisha, Lekshmi and Soumya against Raj Kumar and Vijaya Kumar. Chairperson of the Committee, Sandhya, in the enquiry report said that Raj Kumar and Vijay Kumar had created a hostile work environment for the women nursing staff whereby they felt intimidated.

“Respondents displayed aggressive and intimidating behaviour. Harassment based on gender discrimination is present as the behaviour of the respondents is targeted against the women staff. This harassment is severe because it has the power to alter the conditions of the complainant’s employment and create a hostile environment. Use of abusive language seemed to be there,” the report said. 

The report recommended a change in the contract of the consultancy to be implemented on an urgent basis. But instead of acting on the report, the IIST closed the unit in May this year. 

"The present period of paramedical staff will be finishing on May 31, 1017. In order to curb the expenditure as recommended by the duly constituted committee in this regard, it is proposed to outsource the total medical area to a hospital. As part of this, IIST had approached the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) to extend the total medical facility of VSSC to IIST also. Following this, VSSC had permitted IIST to avail their medical facility at Valiamala complex for IIST students with effect from June 01, 2017 till alternative arrangements were made, “ said a circular issued by the registrar on May 26.

All the medical staff, including nurses and doctors, were sacked before closing the unit.

“GDSS earlier used to supply security staff to ISST. We don’t know whether they have the licence to supply medical manpower. Earlier also, there were issues connected with the agency. They had manipulated the Provident Fund details of the security staff and a complaint was sent to the Prime Minister,” Sujith told The News Minute.

Lekshmi said that the authorities’ action was its way of getting back for giving complaints against GDSS. “Nobody took action on our complaint or on the report filed by the ICC. But instead the authorities were keen to support GDSS. They knew that simply firing us from service would attract legal action or invite criticism and so they closed the medical unit. They have cited financial constraints as the reason for the shutdown though.”