The fight for better wages among nurses in Kerala is set to aggravate with nurses strengthening protest against the government demanding standard wages. The Indian Nurses’ Association (INA) and the United Nurses’ Association (UNA) are determined to escalate their protest without waiting for the government’s industrial relations committee (IRC) meeting to take a decision on the issue scheduled to be held on July 20.
On an indefinite strike in Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur, Ernakulam, Malappuram and Kozhikode, the UNA has said that a march to the Secretariat as well as a statewide token strike would be held on July 11, according to a report in The Hindu.
“We have no option now. Even if we starve to death we have decided that we will fight this to the end because we cannot survive on this meagre salary in today’s world. In the next few days, 80,000 of us are going to march to the government secretariat in protest and nurses across private hospitals will start boycotting work soon,” UNA chief Jasminsha was quoted as saying by Firstpost.
The INA, however, has decided to go on a hunger strike till their demands are met. By Saturday, the strike was on its fourth day. INA nurses’ stir has hit work in Kannur district since the past three-four days. The stir would be aggravated and taken to Thiruvananthapuram and Kasaragod from July 8, leaders of the INA said.
“The last IRC on June 27 left it to the government to finalise and notify the minimum wages of nurses. The government has now gone back on its word and is talking about convening the IRC again. We do not need any more discussions, we just want the government to notify the minimum wages based on the recommendation of the committee set up by the Supreme Court, under Jagdish Prasad, Director General of Health Services,” UNA vice president for Kerala, Sibi Mukesh was quoted as saying by The Hindu.
What is the strike all about?
In 2016, a recommendation by a special committee assigned by the Supreme Court had said that all privately owned hospitals with 50 bed plus capacity had to make sure that nurses get salaries at par with those in the government sector. This came after nurses had agitated in 2013. Basic wage for them was Rs 9,500, according to a pay scale revision in 2013. Nurses claim that certain hospitals fail to ensure even the minimum salary.
With hordes of nurses from the state flying abroad for better pay, the profession experienced a boom between 2000-2010. This led to colleges springing up in myriad parts of the state as well as a surge in numbers of applicants, a lot of whom opted for diplomas from colleges outside Kerala, without checking the credentials of the institute.
Nurse associations feel this is when salary discrepancy started. In order to get a two-year experience certificate, they began compromising with less pay. “When I started working in 1987, an MBBS doctor got Rs 1,500-2,000 and nurses got about Rs 1,000.That was the difference. Today, a doctor gets Rs 30,000 and a nurse gets Rs 6,000-8,000 in the first year,” Roy George, Kerala chief of the Trained Nurses Association of India (TNAI) was quoted as saying by The Times of India.
The nurses called for the indefinite strike after talks between the nurses’ union, labour commissioner K Biju and labour minister TP Ramakrishnan failed. While the union demanded at least Rs 18,000, the hospitals have agreed to a minimum monthly wage of Rs 12,000. The strike has come at a time when epidemics and related diseases have claimed over 100 lives.