For 13 days now, thousands of nurses from private hospitals across Kerala have been on a strike.
For 13 days, they have been demanding fair wages from hospital managements. Ever since their protest began, the nurses have been agitating for their rights, even as they ensure that the health of the patients at their hospitals is not affected.
But slowly, they’re growing more and more frustrated with the system that is denying them the wages prescribed by the Supreme Court.
“Our only demand is that hospitals should follow the SC guidelines. In government hospitals, nurses get a basic pay of Rs 22,000 per month, but here for us, even after 20 years of experience, we don’t get more than Rs 15,000,” explains Liju Vengal, president of the Indian Nurses Association (INA), who has been on a hunger strike outside the Kerala Secretariat.
Liju is referring to the guidelines given by a special committee appointed by Supreme Court in 2016, directing all the state governments to ensure that private hospitals pay at least what the government hospitals give as basic salary to nurses.
However, the protesters claim that all the SC directions are been violated.
“Beginners who join in the hospitals are considered as trainees, and they get only Rs 6,000 per month, sometimes just Rs 5,000. Hospitals keep them on as trainees for years, as they don’t have to pay more. Isn’t this a violation of human rights?” Liju asks.
Angry with the insufficient pay and upset that the government hasn’t done anything to change that, two associations of nurses from 328 private hospitals of the state - the Indian Nurses Association (INA) and the United Nurses Association (UNA) - have been on a strike across Kerala for demanding higher wages. Around 5000 nurses are on an indefinite strike in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Malappuram and Kozhikode.
While in Thiruvananthapuram the nurses are protesting outside the secretariat, in Kannur and Kozhikode, they are protesting outside their respective hospitals.
“Though we are on protest, we make sure that hospitals function smoothly so that patients doesn’t get affected. People consider us the angels of god. But if this situation continues we will have to strengthen our mode of protest,” Liju adds.
UNA Thiruvananthapuram district secretary Abhiraj tells TNM that the nurses don’t have any other option, and that government is not monitoring private hospitals.
“This is our struggle for survival. How can one live with the peanuts they are giving? After July 11, we will strengthen our protest. We will even boycott our work,” he says.
Recalling the massive nurses strike of 2012, Abhiraj says that the hike offered by the management following that agitation was absurd.
“They raised some amount after the 2012 agitation, but they have been taking that money back from us in the guise of other charges. They make nurses stay in hostels compulsorily, and also deduct other charges from their salaries,” he explains.
24-year-old Veena who works at a multi-speciality hospital in Ernakulam says that she spent lakhs on her studies and now her salary is not even enough to look after her family.
“My father is unwell. I took an educational loan to complete my studies. Now I get Rs 7000 per month, but as per their records, I get Rs 12000, as I have joined in the hospital on the condition that management would withdraw Rs 5000 back after crediting the salary. They are doing this just to show that they are paying a high amount. Ironically, my hospital is one of the most expensive ones in Kochi. They charge Rs 600 to Rs 800 from each patient every day as ‘nurses charges’,” Veena says.
Deepa (name changed) who works in Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences (KIMS), one of the most expensive hospitals in Thiruvananthapuram, says she just gets Rs 6000 per month, and has been a ‘trainee’ for the last two years.
“Most of us have studied on educational loans, how will we repay?” she asks.
Rekha R Nair of Thiruvananthapuram Cosmopolitan hospital receives Rs 15000 per month, after 22 years of experience. But even this, she says, is much better than many other places.
“In almost all the private hospitals in Kerala, even after 20 years you get below Rs 10,000. My hospital is better compared to others that I atleast get Rs 15,000 ,and it is after an experience of 22 years,” she says.
Kerala Private Hospitals Association general secretary Hussain Koya Thangal tells TNM that the nurses’ demands cannot be met.
“As per the SC order, hospitals that has at least 50 beds should pay the minimum salary. But most of our members have hospitals which have below 50 beds. In that case, how can they pay more? Moreover, we will have to charge more from patients if we give a hike to nurses. We are ready for a 35% hike, but they are not ready for it,” he claims.
Photos by Sreekesh Raveendran Nair
Edited by Ragamalika Karthikeyan