Govt nudges agitated nurses to the negotiating table

Thiruvananthapuram
25 Jul 2017

An immediate confrontation between the nurses of private hospitals and the state government has been averted following the former’s decision to defer their strike plan in view of the government’s offer for direct talks. Tension had escalated with the Kerala High Court banning the proposed strike and the nurses bent on flouting the directive. The High Court in its order said that health service is a sector which falls under the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA). Therefore, the strike cannot be allowed. The order came on a petition filed by the Kerala Chapter of the Association of Healthcare Providers (India). The court also directed the government to use ESMA if the nurses go on strike. It was at this point that the chief minister’s office contacted both the Indian Nurses Association (INA) and the United Nurses Association (UNA) with an offer of direct talks with Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The plan is to wait for the outcome of talks with the CM. If the talks fail,  the INA and the UNA would launch their agitation from July 21. The unions have also voiced their resentment over the Kannur district administration’s move to deploy nursing students to do hospital duty. Their ground of objection: only a candidate who has successfully completed the nursing programme and the one-year training is qualified to attend to patients. That being the rule, the Kannur district administration’s move is patently illegal, they contend. By and large, the general public is sympathetic to the plight of the nurses. But their timing seems to have gone wrong. The strike move has come at a time when the entire state is in the grip of fever, and the government hospitals are struggling to cope with the rush of patients. The nurses would seem to have erred in their decision not to accept the 60 per cent salary hike offer from hospitals.  It would have been better if they had accepted it – they could have accepted it ‘under protest’ and continued to fight for their demand: a minimum salary of Rs 20,000 for all nurses.  By refusing to budge from their stand and deciding to go ahead with the strike plan when the entire state is reeling under the impact of the outbreak of an assortment of fevers, the nurses are in danger of losing public sympathy. The nurses contention is that the Rs 20,000 minimum salary, recommended by the Jagdish Prasad Committee appointed by the Supreme Court itself, should be implemented. Failure to do so would amount to contempt of the highest court of the land, they argue. In fact, the Trained Nurses Association of India (TNAI) is planning to move the SC soon alleging contempt of court by hospital managements, especially in Kerala, for failing to implement the SC-prescribed minimum wages. Meanwhile, in a decision that should come as a relief for the general public, private hospital associations would implement the government-prescribed minimum wages as decided at the last meeting of the Industrial Review Committee (IRC). But both the INA and the UNA are bent on going ahead with their strike plan if the minimum wages fall below the Rs 20,000 per month. In support of their demand the nurses’ unions contend that even migrant workers who do unskilled jobs get a daily wage of Rs 800. It is a strange paradox that, while doctors are paid in lakhs, nurses, who do an equally responsible and tough job, are being pressured to settle for a pittance. That is simply not acceptable. Hence their resort to strike to realize their demand for a minimum wage of Rs 20,000 per month. Now the focus shifts on to the talks scheduled for July 21.  A prolonged strike seems inevitable if the talks fail. It is a tense waiting for both the nursing community as well as the people. (IPA)