The nurses appointed on an ad-hoc basis for COVID-19 duties have received much praise and appreciation but permanent jobs and nominal wages continue to elude them. More than 3,400 nurses appointed, based on the exams held by the medical recruitment board (MRB) on an ad-hoc basis, held a sit-in protest till midnight of September 28 in the directorate of public health (DPH) campus demanding consolidated wages and the regularisation of jobs.
The protesting nurses accused the authorities of betrayal as more than 2,300 nurses appointed before them and 450 appointed after them on similar terms have been offered appointments on consolidated wages.
The protest was led by the MRB COVID Nurses Association which demanded the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) government to fulfil their poll promise of eradicating contract jobs in the government sectors. The association accused the police of manhandling the protestors while removing them from the protest site.
The government has agreed to hold talks with the association on October 4 to discuss their demands in detail following which the protest was withdrawn temporarily.
‘GOVT BETRAYING COVID NURSES’
The government of Tamil Nadu appointed more than 7,500 nurses qualified in the MRB exams in medical colleges, district and taluk hospitals and primary health centres since the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. The appointments were made on an ad-hoc basis based on the marks obtained, and reservation policies were followed in appointments.
“Around 2,300 nurses appointed on an ad-hoc basis in two phases are offered appointments on consolidated wages with benefits of employee state insurance, provident fund and transfers. The 450 nurses, who were on the waiting list during our appointment also have been upgraded to consolidated wages. But 3,485 of us are left stranded now,” the statement of the association said.
“The appointments were made based on the marks in MRB exams and reservation policies were followed. We could not understand why only a section of us are being betrayed,” said Udhaya Kumar, vice president of the MRB COVID Nurses Association.
The nurses appointed on an ad-hoc basis are paid Rs 14,000 monthly wage, while they are deprived of any rights including availing holidays.
“The 450 nurses appointed after us are people who were ranked below the 3,485 of us facing threats now. They were placed lower in the ranking list and are juniors to us in time of appointment as well. Then why are we not considered for regularisation before them?” asked Kumar.
‘CONTRACT EXTENSION WON'T HELP US’
The contract of the nurses appointed in June 2020 continues to be extended, despite the promises of regularisation by the DMK during the election campaign. The nurses are continuing their duty in the COVID wards, with a duty time of 10-12 hours.
Amutha, a nurse from Coimbatore who participated in the protest said, “We joined the duty on a one day notice when there was total lockdown in June last year. The staff appointed through outsourcing did not join citing different reasons. Initially, we were given a 6 months contract which was extended twice for three months each."
Around 1,000 nurses contracted the COVID-19 infection and few have lost their lives. “None of these made it to the news. Since there was a lockdown in place after our appointment in June 2020, even after a few months of duty we could not meet any of our family members. Even those who had newborn babies carried out the duties with sincerity in the pandemic,” Amutha said.
Another protester Yamuna from Dindigul said, “I worked as a staff nurse in a private hospital at a much higher salary than what we are paid now. If we lose the job now, we won't get similar pay or position in private hospitals again. Our only demand is regularisation of jobs and consolidated wages."
‘RETAIN US UNDER HEALTH DEPARTMENT’
The nurses continue to render services in different parts of the state and are credited for their service during the first and second waves of the pandemic. But, a recent circular by the state government has instructed the 3,485 nurses to report to the respective district collectors instead of the health department officials.
“This is a threat to the job security of the nurses working in the frontline against the pandemic. We demand the government to withdraw the order and ensure status-quo,” Kumar said.
The contract of the workers was extended in a phased manner since appointment, but the recent order on change of reporting officer led to the protest of the nurses which extended past midnight of September 28.
“The manner in which the police handled the protestors is condemnable. Male nurses who led the protest were specifically targeted and removed from the protest site. After serving during the crucial period of the fight against the pandemic, we are facing such humiliation,” added Kumar.
‘FULFILL POLL PROMISE’
The protesters demanded the DMK government to fulfil their poll promises on regularising contract employees. The party also promised to fill the 4.5 lakh vacancies in different departments during the campaign.
Protesters holding placards of DMK’s poll promises of filling vacancies and regularisation of contract employees. Image Courtesy: R. Prakash
“We joined the government job since our duty was essential during the pandemic. We risked our lives in discharging our duties exclusively in the COVID wards. Our sole demand remains that we should be given consolidated pay and our job security must be ensured”, Yamuna from Thirupatthur district said.