FIVE YEARS after their historic agitation for better pay, Kerala’s private hospital nurses are in the middle of another bout of agitation, demanding minimum wages as recommended last year by a Supreme Court-recommended committee. They are set to make the protests next week. On Tuesday, United Nurses Association (UNA), which is spearheading the agitation, plans a massive march to the state Secretariat. The association also plans a state-wide stir, as two rounds of discussions with hospital managements have failed to reach desirable result for them.
The next round of meeting is scheduled for Monday. Another nurses’ organisation, the Indian Nurses Association (INA), is continuing its sit-in in front of the Secretariat. In December 2011, nurses, then unorganised, had done on an agitation under UNA, then a newly launched trade union. Most hospitals were forced to increase salary, but nurses say even then monthly salary hovered in the Rs 10,000-Rs 12,000 range.
The agitation this time began in Thrissur three weeks ago, and last week spread to seven other districts. Nurses are holding sit-ins at district headquarters as part of the protest, but without hampering functioning of hospitals, their representatives said. Nurses of 328 private hospitals in Kerala —- the state has 975 private hospitals — are part of the protest, the organisers said. Kerala Private Hospitals Association general secretary Hussain Koya Thangal, however, said that hospitals are in no position to raise salaries. “If hospitals are forced to increase nurses’ salary, cost of treatment will go up in Kerala,” Thangal said. “We are ready for a 35-per cent hike, but nurses are not willing to accept that.”
But UNA state president Jasmin Shah said the salary hike after the agitation of 2011 had been an absurdity. “Hospital managements take back half the salary towards hostel/food and other establishment charges,” Shah said. “We are fighting for a decent salary to run our families.” Last year, a Supreme Court-appointed expert committee recommended that private hospitals should pay nurses minimum monthly wage of Rs 20,000. The Catholic Health Association of India had last week said they are ready to raise nurses’ salary in 300-odd hospitals run by the Church in Kerala.