On Monday, at a meeting chaired by Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, it has been decided that the final notification on the revision of minimum wages of workers in private hospitals including nurses across the state will be issued before March 31. The draft proposal for the revision of minimum wages was issued on November 16, 2017.
Soon after, nurses in private hospitals across Kerala, affiliated to the United Nurses’ Association (UNA), who were planning to go on mass leave indefinitely from March 6 demanding revision of minimum wages, have postponed their strike plans after getting an assurance from chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
“Since we got an assurance from the government that the wage revision will be implemented before March 31, we have decided to postpone the proposed strike”, told Sujanapal Achuthan, General Secretary of UNA.
According to the draft proposal, nurses’ managers are to be paid a basic salary of Rs 22,650, while nursing superintendents should be given Rs 22,090. The basic salary for others: assistant nursing superintendents Rs 21,550; head nurse Rs 21,020; tutor nurse/clinical instructor Rs 20,550; staff nurse Rs 20,000; ANM grade 1 – 18,570; grade 2 – 17,680.
“But the ongoing struggle at KVM Hospital Cherthala, Alappuzha, will continue,” Sujanapal added.
From August 21, 2017, onwards more than 150 nurses who work at the 300-bed KVM Hospital Cherthala in Alappuzha district are on strike. The adamant KVM management’s unfair decision to dismiss two of its staffs has triggered the anger of workers over job insecurity and poor working conditions. Though, the unions and labour department officials had made several attempts to sort out the issues in the hospital the management was not ready to meet the demands of the workers.
“The protesting staffs are demanding a three-shift working system at the hospital and recruitment of an adequate number of staffs,” said Arunjith of UNA.
Majority of the private hospitals across Kerala are following three shift working system after continuous struggles of unions and organisations. While the KVM hospital still follows a two-shift system. “The first shift starts at 8 am and ends at 6 pm (ten hours of job continuously) and second shift involves 14 hours of work from 6 pm to 8 am,” said Arunjith.
According to Arunjith, the nurses at KVM earn an average salary of Rs 8,000 per month which is less than the mandated minimum as per 2013 wage revision. To justify the wages below the statutory minimum, the hospital has deployed “trainees.” The candidates who are recruited at the post of trainees are not entitled to salary benefits including Statutory Employees’ State Insurance (ESI) and Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF).
“One of the staffs, who had been dismissed from the hospital, was in the post of a trainee. That staff has three years of experience in Amritha Hospital and one year of experience at KVM itself,” Arunjith added. As per the definition, one candidate can be in the position of trainee nurses at maximum for one year.
Earlier, the Kerala Private Hospitals’ Association (KPHA) leaders itself declared that the nursing trainees working in private hospitals cannot be enrolled as permanent staff.
While responding to the ongoing struggle at KVM hospital, one of the nursing students from Malappuram district who is in her final-year, of course, told: “they are fighting for their rights; it is hard for the public to understand the situation of nurses.”
“After completing our studies, we may have to face the similar situations. You know, the majority of the students in my class are studying depending bank loans. So when we complete studies, we have to work at any cost to repay our loans which worth average Rs 4 lakh,” she said on the condition of anonymity.
“There are so many students who completed nursing courses from the colleges within the state. Other than that, many students move out of the state to study and they come back will to the state seeking jobs. So it is difficult to find jobs here in this job market,” said Akshay, one of the activists of Nursing Students Sub-committee which is affiliated to Student Federation of India.
“The hospital management who knows that there are so many waiting outside for jobs stick on their adamant stand when it comes to waging revision and implementation of better working conditions,” said a staff nurse who had been working in a private hospital for 7 years.
As per the report of World Health Organisation, in distribution for nurses with any level of education per lakh population, at the top end among the highest 30 districts across the country, there were seven districts from Kerala out of state’s 14 districts. If it is in the case of nurses and midwives with a medical qualification, again, districts in Kerala top in the list. In the list of highest 17 districts, 10 districts belong to Kerala. Among this Kottayam district in Kerala tops the list with 220.2 per lakh population.
More that, there are 220 private, self-financing and unaided nursing colleges come under Kerala University for Health Sciences (KUHS). An average of 50 students study in every batch and 11000 fresh graduates are entering the job market every year. This is only the case B.Sc. nursing students from private, self-financing and unaided nursing colleges within the state. When we consider General Nursing student, students from government colleges and institutions and students who are studying out of Kerala, the actual number will be huge.
“Nearly, 70 percent of the students are completing their studies depending bank loans and other loans. So, they are bounded to reimburse that money. For that, the salary which they receive from the private hospitals will not be sufficient and most of them opt to migrate abroad to earn better,” said one of the government officials working in this sector.
A UAE based Malayali nurse Priya, who hails from a middle-class family in Manathawady in Wayanad district, elaborated her story: “I had completed my nursing course relying upon bank loans. To repay the loan, the salary which I had been receiving from private hospitals in the state was not enough. But I was forced to work to gain adequate experience in this field to go abroad.”
This is not only the experience of Priya also many are forced to work for very minimal salary to gain experience. After that, they all make their try to move out of the country, especially to Gulf countries, Western European countries and North American countries, to earn better to win the bread and butter for their family.
“If the new wage revision proposal is being implemented sidelining the adamant stand of private hospital management that will be a big victory for the struggling community,” said Arunjith expressing his hope on the Left Front government in Kerala.