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TN: 'Overworked' Village Health Nurses Protest, Govt to Consider Demands of Regularised Working Hours

The pandemic has increased the working hours of the village nurses since they are actively involved in the inoculation drives of the government.
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Village health nurses protesting in the DPH campus in Chennai

The village health nurses (VHN) in Tamil Nadu held protests across the state demanding regularised working hours and filling up of existing vacancies. The association of the nurses alleged that they are being overworked as they clock in 12-14 hours a day without any weekly and public holidays.

The nurses demanded the state government to schedule the COVID-19 inoculation duties without affecting their routine work which includes providing care to pregnant women, care at home, clinic and community.

A charter of demands was submitted to the director of public health (DPH) by the Tamil Nadu Government VHN Association (TNGVNA) after the protest in Chennai. Earlier this month, the nurses sported black badges while on duty to insist on similar demands.

The officials from the state health department held talks with the protesting union and promised to consider their demands for exemption from duty on holidays and ensured regular working hours.

REGULARISE WORKING HOURS

The pandemic has increased the working hours of the VHNs since they are actively involved in the inoculation drives of the government. The overworked nurses held a hunger strike in the DPH campus, Chennai, on September 23.

The workers are engaged in pandemic related works and are working for 12-14 hours a day. This is affecting their actual role of taking care of pregnant women and other duties involving the community," a statement of the nurses' association said.

The association has demanded the government and department of medicine to ensure the regularisation of working hours to eight hours a day.

The nurses are engaged in administering vaccines for COVID-19 on public holidays and sundays. This has prevented us from carrying out our basic duties of maternal care and regular house visits," the statement further said.

The mass representation by the association demanding regularisation of working hours was submitted to the officials of the DPH.

Other major demands include the provision for transport facilities for the VHNs employed in remote and tribal hamlets, exemption from vaccination duties and deputation to mini clinics.

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The association representative submitted the charter of demands to the Principal Secretary of health

We are hoping for a positive response from the government of Tamil Nadu as the secretary to the government and DPH officials have responded positively to our demands,” a leader of the union said.

REGULAR WORKS AFFECTED’

The VHNs are credited for their work in the society, particularly in the rural and tribal areas, to ensure maternal and child care activities. The pandemic and the subsequent inoculation exercise has affected their duties.

We are unable to ensure our regular visits to homes of pregnant women and children below the age of five. The distribution of medicines to pregnant and lactating mothers are also affected,” a member of the union said.

The nurses are also entrusted with the work of entering data in the registers and online entry of details on the Pregnancy and Infant Cohort Monitoring and Evaluation (PICME).

Since our site visits are curtailed due to the pandemic and the vaccination exercise, the data on pregnancy and other related works are affected. The registration in the website is a time consuming process and all the nurses have to work till midnight to finish the process,” an office bearer of the union said.

The pandemic has affected the healthcare required for women and children in the rural and tribal areas. One health worker has to cover a population of 3,000 in tribal areas and 5,000 in the non tribal areas.

The workers who are women find it difficult to reach out to remote villages and hamlets, but have achieved the task of ensuring healthcare for the poor and downtrodden. Such workforce cannot be overburdened, that too during the pandemic," the office bearer said.

SEQUENCE OF PROTESTS

The nurses also held a black badge protest on September 9 and took mass casual leaves on September 14 demanding weekly holidays and regularisation of work.

We are not provided with the weekly holidays for the past several months despite being in the frontline. This has added to the mental stress apart from the threats of contracting the infection”, the worker added.

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VHNs wearing black badges on duty in protest against the extended working hours (Image courtesy: thehindu.tamil.com)

This is the third protest in the month of September reiterating our demands. Our working hours must be fixed from 9 am to 5 pm, even if it is for vaccination related works. Weekly and public holidays must be ensured for all the VHNs," the office bearer demanded.

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